Fr. Bryan Howard
16thSunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – 21 July 2019
Psalm 15, today’s Responsorial Psalm, begins by asking the question, “O Lord, who will dwell in your tabernacle? Who will rest on your holy mountain?” Which is another way of asking, “How do we grow closer to God? How do we get to heaven?” The answer, walk blamelessly, do justice, know the truth in your heart, do not slander or harm your neighbor, despise sin but honor those who fear the Lord. That is, the holy and righteous man who follows the Law of God in loving God and neighbor will be taken up to heaven. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Psalm 15, because He is the only perfectly righteous man who never sinned and always followed God’s will.
We, on the other hand, often fall short of that ideal, but we should never give up. Instead, we should strive to grow closer to that ideal, the example that Jesus gives us, each day of our lives. To do that we need to train ourselves, as a craftsman has to train in their craft, or an artist at their art, or an athlete at their sport. Baseball players have to train not only to hit, catch, and throw, but to keep their bodies in good physical condition. We have to train ourselves spiritually to keep our souls in good spiritual condition so that we can more easily love God and neighbor in those challenging circumstances, like when we’re tempted to sin, stressed out and irritated, or enduring some form of suffering.
Christian training comes in two forms: active and passive, prayers and works of charity. There are different religious orders in the Church which focus on one or the other of these. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, focus on acts of charity by looking for the poorest of the poor, the most needy, and those who are very sick, and caring for their needs. They give up worldly pleasure and live lives of poverty so that they can better care for the poor. I saw a video once of Mother Teresa touring a building they were turning into a convent for her nuns, and she told them to take out the hot water heater because they wouldn’t be needing it. However, you can’t take it all the way to the extreme. Even the Missionaries of Charity begin every day with an hour of adoration of the Eucharist and pray throughout the day.
On the other side there are cloistered orders of nuns and monks, like the Carthusian monks and the Carmelite nuns, who separate themselves from the world to dedicate themselves entirely to prayer. They take a vow of stability, meaning that they will stay in the monastery for the rest of their lives, leaving at the most once or twice a year, and some of them never leaving it at all. They dedicate many hours of their days to prayer, reading the Bible, and spiritual reading. Once again, though, there must be a balance, and they always have some kind of outreach to the surrounding community, often by leading retreats, running a school, or welcoming visitors. St. Joseph Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Covington, has the Pennies for Bread program. The monks bake 2,000 loaves of homemade bread every week and some friends of the Abbey deliver it to charities who distribute it to the poor.
These two aspects of spiritual training, prayer and works of charity, are seen in today’s Gospel through Martha and Mary. Martha gets upset with Mary because she’s not helping her with serving their guests and asks Jesus to tell her to help. Martha represents the active life of works of charity, while Mary represents the life of contemplative prayer. Jesus responds to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”The whole point is to grow closer to Jesus, and so the first, and only truly necessary thing is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Prayer is the one thing that is necessary because, when it’s done right, prayer leads us closer to Jesus and causes us to grow in love. Prayer leads to charity. If we put the work first, then we’re bound to get it wrong, to mix up our priorities like Martha did.
Prayer helps us to focus on Jesus, to keep our eyes fixed on Him and to listen to His words in the Bible. However, prayer that only stays in the mind isn’t really doing anything, is it? Our prayers should lead us to grow in love, which will make us want to help those around us who are in need, following the example that Jesus set for us. So, I want to challenge everyone to set aside some time every day, even just 15 minutes, as time dedicated to God. Pray the rosary, or read a passage of the Bible, or do some other devotion. For me, the best time to pray is in the morning before I’m distracted by all the business of the day. If I wait until the evening I usually don’t do it at all. However, I do know some people who just aren’t morning people and prefer to pray in the evening, but it does take more willpower to do it that way. But, whenever and however you pray, end your prayer by thinking of one, concrete thing you can do to put that prayer into action that day.
In that way, through both prayer and acts of charity, we can climb the mountain of the Lord and come to rest in His heavenly Temple and, in the words of St. Paul from our second reading, may be presented to God “perfect in Christ Jesus.”
Everything about the Mass means something, and that includes the building that we celebrate the Mass in. Basic church architecture comes from the ancient period, especially during the 4th century after Christianity was legalized, and it was refined during the High Middle Ages. They tried to design the Church to speak to us of the faith and teach us about God just by seeing it.
First, the Church buildings represents the Church itself. Of course, the Church is more than a buildings or a charitable organization. The Church is the body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as the head of the Church and we, the faithful on earth, along with the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven, are the members which make up the body. In a Church building the sanctuary, where the altar, celebrant’s chair (cathedra), and tabernacle are is the head and represents Jesus. The altar is connected to Jesus because it is on the altar that the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ, is offered to God the Father. The celebrant represents Jesus because He presides over the Mass in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, by using Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. The tabernacle, of course, holds the Eucharist, which is the presence of Jesus Himself. The nave of the Church represents the body of Christ, including us on earth, the angels, and the saints. The nave has the pews and is where the people gather to attend Mass. It also usually has images of the saints in stained glass windows and as statues. If you look at an image of a Medieval Church you’ll see that it even has arms, like a body.
The Church also represents heaven and earth. This goes all the way back to Solomon’s Temple. The Sanctuary of the Temple was decorated with angels and represented heaven, while the rest of the Temple was decorated with gardens and animals representing the Earth. In a Catholic Church the sanctuary is where Jesus is, where the offering takes place, and is often decorated with angels, like St. Louis Cathedral downtown. The nave represents earth and is where we are gathered for the Mass. During Mass we look towards the sanctuary, just like we ought to have our eyes fixed on heaven. When it’s time to receive Communion the priest and ministers bring the Eucharist down to the nave, symbolizing the Incarnation, when Jesus came down from heaven to earth, and the people go up towards the Sanctuary, showing that heaven is our final destination. That point where the sanctuary and nave meet, where the altar rail would be in a traditional Church, represents the meeting of heaven and earth both in the person of Jesus Christ and in the Mass.
Whenever I go into a Church for the first time, I pay the most attention to the tabernacle, the altar, the stained glass windows, and the stations of the Cross. Look around in churches, look at the details, designs, and artwork in the Church, and ask how this Church is pointing us towards heaven.
The schedule for the Fall Bible Study is now up. On September 11, at 6:30 PM, we'll start going through the book of Exodus, beginning with the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt. The way God interacts with His people to free them both politically and spiritually can help us learn how God wants to free us from everything that separates us from Him.
We'll meet twice a month in September, October, and November, and once in December. On the two nights that I'll be out of town, we'll show episodes from Bishop Robert Barron's video series, Catholicism.
Download or print the schedule HERE.
Fr. Bryan Recommends
The iPieta app
Not too long ago the average Catholic would have had a family bible in their home, possibly a copy of the Baltimore Catechism, and maybe a book on the lives of the saints, the life of Christ, or a similar spiritual topic, and many people would not have even had that. If you wanted to study the faith in more depths, you had to rely on your priest or what few resources you could get your hands on. Today, with the advent of the internet, we all have access to Catholic writings, videos, and materials at every level, from beginner to doctorate, but how do we know what to trust or where to look?
One of the very best Catholic resources available is the iPieta app for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and it’s completely free (although it does take up quite a bit of space). The app has four sections, Bible, Calendar, Prayer, and Veritas.
The Bible section has the entire Bible in English, Latin, Spanish, French, German, and more. The English translation is the Douay-Rheims Version, which is the traditional English version of the Bible. The language is a bit old fashioned, since the last version was from the 1800s, but it’s a very accurate translation, and it’s very nice to have the entire Bible on your phone or tablet.
The Calendar section has the liturgical calendar on it. If you’re wondering if today is the feast of a particular saint, or what weekday Christmas will fall on this year, you can find it in the calendar all the way out to 2050! It also has the readings for the day, which is very good if you want to pray with the readings for next Sunday ahead of time to prepare spiritually for Mass. Just remember, even though it’s the same readings, it’s not the same translation that we use in Mass.
The Prayer section has literally hundreds of prayers for all kinds of different circumstances. It has prayers to Jesus, prayers to the Holy Spirit, prayers for consecration, for the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints, prayers to ask for blessings, and prayers for the Eucharist. It has the Mysteries and prayers of the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, other novenas, and more.
The Veritas Section is perhaps the most impressive of all, because it contains an entire Catholic library. It has the entire 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, the Baltimore Catechism, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, hundreds of official writings of the Popes and Church councils, Bible commentaries, writings of the Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. John Chrysostom, and dozens of spiritual books by saints and spiritual masters.
When I downloaded it about 10 years ago, I thought paying $2.99 was a pretty darn good deal for all of that, but, now you can download it for free. If you have a smart phone it’d be silly not to get it.
In just a few days we’ll celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our nation, Independence Day, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We are rightly proud to be Americans. Our forefathers declared their independence from the oppressive government of England, fought to defend that independence, and set up a government that has, in large part, preserved the liberties they fought for through these past 243 years. We also recognize that the United States isn’t perfect. In our history, we can point to slavery, the internment of the Japanese during World War II, and other episodes as points of shame, and today we still fight against the scourge of abortion, racism, and violence.
Patriotism is a form of love, and love is not made up of affectionate feelings. Love can produce good and affectionate feelings, but that’s not what love is. Love means a firm commitment to seek the good of another, not counting the cost to yourself. Love must be grounded in truth, so that it can lead to self-giving and self-sacrifice. Patriotism is the love of our country; so, let us be grateful for the freedom and prosperity that is ours, and ask how we may insure that freedom and prosperity for future generations.
The virtue of patriotism doesn’t mean that we blindly proclaim the glory of our homeland, but that, out of love for our homeland and fellow citizens, we work tirelessly to defend her and help her to grow in virtue. A patriot defends his country from aggression and all those who seek to harm it. We have a long history of patriots and heroes who have taken up arms to defend this country, and some of their finest moments have come at the times of greatest danger. We must remember to pray for everyone who’s risked or given life or limb in our defense.
The virtue of patriotism also makes us want to help our country to grow in virtue. If we think that the United States is already perfect, the chosen land, the city on a hill, then we might blind ourselves to its problems. We can admit the weaknesses of our country while still loving it, and then we can work to improve them. We can pray for our neighbors, our country, our elected officials, and all those who work for the government. We can pay attention to what’s happening in politics and stay informed, so that we can be informed voters, not voting just for what’s best for ourselves, but for the country.
The point is that if we love our country in her greatness and in her best moments, then we must love her more in her weakness and sin; we must love her enough to see her weakness and do something about it.
For decades, priests recognized that people would stop attending Church regularly in their late teens and 20s, but the thought was that they would always come back to get married, to baptize their children, and to send them to parish religious education or a Catholic school. So, you’d have a chance to bring them back into the Church and get them actively participating, going to Mass, and growing in their faith. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Statistically, there are more people calling themselves Catholics than ever before in the United States, but fewer of them are participating in the life of the Church.
Since 1970, the US population has increased from 205.1 million to 327.2 million, and the Catholic population has likewise increased from 54.1 million to 76.3 million. In 1970, about 26% of the US population considered themselves Catholic and by 2018 that fell to about 23%. However, while the number of Catholics has increased, the number of Catholics participating in the life of the Church and receiving the Sacraments has decreased, in some cases dramatically. The number of Children of elementary and high school age receiving religious education, either in a Catholic school or parish program, has decreased from 9.9 million in 1970 to 4.7 million in 2018, just under half. The number of infant baptisms was 1.09 million in 1970 and 615,119 in 2018. The number of Catholic marriages dropped from 426,309 in 1970 to 143,082 in 2018. Confirmations went from 419,360 in 1970 to 630,465 in 2000, then decreased steadily to 556,418 in 2018. Similarly, first communions increased from 849,919 in 1970 to 881,321 in 2000, before dropping to 685,595 in 2018. This is all bad enough, but there are two more changes that are even more disturbing to me. The percent of Catholics attending Mass weekly has dropped from 54.9% in 1970 to 21.1% in 2018, and the percent attending monthly has dropped from 71.36% in 1970 to 45.3% in 2018. There was a greater percent of Catholics going to Mass every week in 1970 than there are going to Mass once a month now. Finally, even the number of Catholic funerals has begun to drop, from 417,779 in 1970 to 472,789 in 2000, then down to 392,277 in 2018. The one rule of Catholic life that we could count on was that people always came back for their funerals, but even that is starting to change.
I don’t mean this to be a depressing article. The Lord comes to bring us life and true and lasting joy. Jesus Christ is the Price of Peace who brings hope to the world, and we should always be filled with hope in the Lord, knowing that the Holy Spirit is still with us. However, we also need to do our part. We need to teach the fullness of the faith. In the 1960s and 70s the faith was watered down in many places. I remember my mom telling me that the only thing she learned in religious education was “to be a good Catholic, you just need to go to Church and be nice to people.” If we don’t take the Bible and the teachings of the Church seriously, how can we expect anyone else to? We also need to treat the Eucharist with the reverence it deserves. The Mass shouldn’t look like everything else in our lives. When we enter Church, we should be immediately aware that we are in God’s house. It should look, and smell, and sound different, and it should feel different, more reverent and more holy. If the Church and Mass aren’t obviously places of holiness, then how can the holiness of God be translated into the rest of our lives. The Spirit of God is present in His Church, let’s work to make sure that His Presence has an impact in the way we worship and in the way we live our lives.
Belief in God as the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is central to Christianity and, amazingly, all of the mainstream Christian and evangelical Christian denominations believe in God as the Trinity. Christians disagree about almost everything, including the books that make up the Bible, how to interpret the Bible, how one is saved, morality, spirituality, heaven, hell, and purgatory, the Church, the Sacraments, grace, and more, but we agree about the Holy Trinity even though the word Trinity is never used in the Bible.
The doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one God, with the three persons of God united in one Divine nature. God the Father is fully God, God the Son is fully God, and God the Holy Spirit is fully God, but they are all united as the one true God. There are many ways to try to explain the Trinity, like the three leaf clover or the image of God as a family, but they all fall short of the reality and fail to explain some aspect of the Trinity. In reality God is an infinite sharing of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from all eternity, without beginning or ending. This is a great mystery, one that we will never fully comprehend on earth, and probably not even in heaven.
We can’t fully comprehend the Trinity because God is truly infinite. He’s not infinite like we say the universe is infinite. The universe is unimaginably large, but matter and energy can never be truly created or destroyed naturally, so there must be a certain amount of stuff in the universe. God is truly infinite, without limit. You could sooner explore every planet in the universe than explore the depths of the mystery of God. You can never fully comprehend God, but you can gain more understanding of Him through prayer and meditation. God is a mystery not in the sense of being incomprehensible but in the sense that there is always more to explore.
We don’t believe in some immaterial force of the universe or some distant clockmaker God who started the universe but wants nothing to do with it. We believe in a personal God, a God of infinite love, who has invited each one of us into His inner life, the love shared between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So spend some time this Trinity Sunday contemplating who God is, how He’s been at work in your life, and how He might be calling you to share in His life.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Pentecost – 9 June 2019
Today we wait in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit, even as the apostles spent ten days in prayer in the upper room from the time of the Ascension of the Lord, not sure what they were supposed to do next or how to go about doing it. Then, suddenly, with the sound of a strong driving wind, the Holy Spirit appeared to them as fire, which divided and came to rest on each one of them. From that moment on they fearlessly preached the Gospel, until the Good News of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ has been spread to the entire world. This moment was, in a way, the true birth of the Church.
Just like a human body is given life by its soul, so the Church is like a body, with Christ as the head, us as the members, and the Holy Spirit as the soul. Our head, or more specifically our brain, gives direction to the body, sometimes even without us realizing it. The brain keeps the heart pumping and the various organs functioning, but it also consciously controls the body when we flex a muscle to stand up, sit down, run or walk, etc. Jesus Christ directs the Church in so many ways that we don’t see through His grace and power, but He also directs the Church in ways that are more obvious, through the moral laws that He gave us, through the commands to love God and neighbor, and through setting our destination, heaven, and the direction we need to take to get there, the Way of the Cross.
We are the members of the body, each one with our own role and function within the body of the Church. In Sunday’s second reading, from the letter to the Corinthians, we read, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”No one member of the Church has all of the spiritual gifts that the Church needs to accomplish her mission. We have those who serve the Church through a life of celibacy, and those who serve the Church through bearing and raising children in the faith. Some dedicated to a life of prayer for the Church, and some dedicated to active ministries of serving the poor, teaching, evangelization, administration, liturgy, and much more. All of these gifts and offerings have to be directed towards our common goal, eternal life in heaven with God, and they all have to be united in one Spirit.
I’ve been using the analogy of a body, since that’s the analogy that St. Paul uses, but another good analogy is a factory. I used to think of a factory as a bunch of people each separately doing their individual parts, until I spent a summer working at a printing factory on one of the cutting machines. It took the printers, the cutting machine, and the binders to make a single product, but we weren’t all isolated doing our own thing. We had to actively cooperate with each other for it to come out right. If the printing was slightly off, then I might cut off part of the text, and if the cut is slightly off, then it might not bind properly. The Spirit is what binds the Church together, so that we’re not all doing our own thing but working together to bring all of us to heaven. We may be judged on our own individual actions, but no one is saved as an individual; you are saved as a member of the Church.
The story of the Tower of Babel shows us what happens when we deny the Spirit of God and seek to glorify ourselves instead. They weren’t just building a tower, but a ziggurat, a Temple, but it’s obviously not meant to glorify God but themselves, so God confuses their languages and the people are scattered. This symbolizes human pride. When we seek to glorify ourselves over God and over one another, we aren’t united but torn apart. The way of Jesus is the way of service, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.”If the Tower of Babel confused the languages and scattered the people, then the Holy Spirit at Pentecost overcame the separation of languages and united the people in Christ. After the Apostles received the Spirit, they went out to preach and everyone heard them speaking in their own native language, and 3000 people came to believe in Jesus that day.
In the Church, heresy, denying the teachings of the Church, and schism, denying the authority of the Church, tear the Church apart. And what happens to Christian groups that separate from the Church? They continue to splinter, so that today there are tens of thousands of protestant denominations. The same thing happens in parish Churches. We must not let disagreements between one another pull us apart. Even in our disagreements we can be united in love, and even when we’ve hurt one another we can ask for and give forgiveness. Should we defend the truths of the faith? To our last breaths, but always in love and charity. It’s certainly not easy. In fact, St. Paul says that we are “groaning in labor pains”as we wait for“the redemption of our bodies.”
In just a few moments we’ll experience the Holy Spirit come down and transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We call this Communion, because through it we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and are united as one body with Christ. When you receive Communion today, pray for the unity and growth of the universal Church and the continued unity and growth of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
Pentecost is the final day of the Easter season and is, in a way, the birthday of the Church, since on Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and they began to preach the Gospel to the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the holy festival. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that 3000 people were converted on that day. The Church has continued that mission to preach the Gospel of the death and Resurrection of Jesus in every age and on every continent and in every nation. As Catholic Christians we are also required to support the mission of the Church not only through giving to the Church, but, first, through preaching the Gospel ourselves.
We believe that Truth is important. Some, with Pontius Pilate, ask, “What is truth?” They say that it’s impossible to know the truth, and that the best we can do are educated guesses. Or they say that there is not truth, as they believe what’s true for one person isn’t necessarily true for other people. People say things like, “That’s my truth.” Well, opinions, like where to get the best boiled crawfish, aren’t right or wrong, but truth is true for everyone.
Today we celebrate the Spirit of Truth come into the world. God the Father sent Jesus Christ to redeem the world, and, after His ascension, Father and Son together sent the Spirit of God into the world. Jesus said to the disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). The Spirit reveals to us the truth about God, about the world, about ourselves, and about life.
Some people think that we’re just trying to stop them from living the way they want to. They see the truth as limiting and enslaving them. However, Jesus tells us that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). If you try to play a piano without following the rule of music you’ll end up just making noise, and if you try to climb a mountain with your eyes closed you’ll probably slip and fall, maybe to your death. However, if you open your eyes you’ll see the light, and if you let the Spirit of Truth guide you, He’ll bring you to the top of the mountain.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.