Last week I wrote about how the laying on of hands in the sacraments represents the blessing of God the Father coming down unto us and making us His children. If we keep reading in the Old Testament, we see that the laying on of hands has another meaning. When Moses ordained Aaron and his sons as the first priests, God told them to take 1 bull and 2 rams, then to anoint Aaron and his sons with Chrism and dress them in the priestly vestments. Then, it says that Aaron and the other priests “lay their hands upon the head of the bull, and you shall kill the bull,” and “Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall slaughter the ram,” and finally, “you shall take the other ram; and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands upon the head of the ram, and you shall kill the ram” (Ex 29). The book of Leviticus is the instruction book for the Old Testament priests on how to make the sacrifices in the Temple. Over and over the book of Leviticus says things like this, “He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the Lord, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the Lord” (Lv 4:4). If you’re a bull or a ram or a lamb in the Temple and you see a guy in special priestly vestments coming towards you with his hands stretched out, you better run because you’re being set apart as a sacrifice for the Lord.
Likewise, in the ordination of a Catholic priest, the bishop lays his hands on the head of the young man, thus setting Him apart for the Lord and marking Him as a sacrificial offering for God. The priest is called to die to himself so He can live for Christ. It’s not just priests who receive the laying on of hands. In the Sacrament of Confirmation each candidate, or all together if there are many of them, receives the laying on of hands, signifying that they too are set apart for God. In the sacraments we are conformed to Jesus Christ. We become children of God because we are united with the Son of God. We are, as it were, sons in the Son. Jesus Christ became one of us in the incarnation in order to make us like Him and show us what it means to be children of God. As Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). Being conformed to Christ means to take up the Cross and be willing to suffer for the good of others, as Jesus Christ did for us.
How do we take up the Cross in our daily lives? First, we know that everyone experiences suffering at some points in their lives. We can suffer patiently and offer it up. There’s no special trick to this. Simply tell Jesus that you are giving Him you pain and suffering for whatever intention you have. You can offer it for the souls in purgatory, for your family or children, for Catholic missionaries, or any other intention that you may have. This won’t make your suffering go away, but it will unite it to the Cross of Christ and give it meaning.
Some suffering, like an illness, comes to us against our will and some we choose to undergo. The highest form of suffering is the suffering that we willingly endure for the sake of a loved one, as a soldier or first responder puts their lives on the line to save some else or as a martyr endures suffering and death because of their faith in God. Martyrdom is to die the death of Christ and so to be conformed to Christ not only in life but also in death, and so martyrs go straight to heaven, because they are already united to Christ. Let us ask Jesus to give us the strength of the martyrs in all the suffering in our lives, that we may be conformed to Christ in life, in death, and for eternity in heaven.
I deviated quite a bit from my text this weekend, and I think the recorded version was better.
Fr. Bryan Howard
23rdSunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – 8 September 2019
What makes you happy? The way that we answer that question has a huge impact on the choices that we make in our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that everyone chooses what they think will make them happy, what they think is good, although they sometimes overlook a greater evil in their choices. The addict chooses to do drugs because they think it will make them happy; they choose the good of the pleasure they receive from the drug while overlooking the greater evil of the pain it causes them and others. If we can figure out what really makes us happy, what can bring lasting happiness, then we can train ourselves to choose the rights things and avoid the wrong things, i.e. to choose good and to avoid evil. We must see that happiness is more than merely physical pleasure but is, as the Bible puts it, blessedness, or closeness to God.
So, what makes you happy? The contentment that we get from good food and drink fades after the meal. The joy we get from being well thought of and honored by others sours with time. Power over others is temporary, and those who hold on to power constantly fear losing it. Even money is simply a means to acquiring other things, and those things eventually turn boring. All of those things can only bring temporary happiness in our lives and ultimately leave us wanting something more. Only God can give us lasting and eternal happiness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sees the great crowds that are travelling with Him and turns to them, saying, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”If we think of life as the pursuit of pleasure then these words of Jesus don’t make any sense. We may think of the Cross as a Christian symbol representing God’s love for us, but for the Jews of Jesus’ day, the cross was the ultimate symbol of Roman power and a cruel and painful form of execution. Criminals and rebels were forced to carry their own crosses to the place of their execution. If we think of life as the pursuit of personal happiness, or the pursuit of pleasure, then these words of Jesus don’t make any sense. Jesus is challenging us to see that we can only be truly happy by putting God first in our lives, ahead of our family, ahead of our own lives, and even ahead of our own desire for happiness.
Why would Jesus say this in such a blunt way? Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus is traveling with a great crowd following Him, but at the foot of the Cross there will only be a handful of people, Mary, His mother, St. John, and a few others. I think Jesus knew that many of those people were only following Him because of the miracles that He performed, and He wanted them to understand the cost of being His disciple. We must give ourselves totally to Jesus. St. Paul calls Himself a slave of Christ Jesus in His letter to the Romans, even as He tells the Corinthians, “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ”(1 Cor 7:22). In today’s second reading one of the Christian communities sent a slave, Onesimus, to tend to St. Paul while he’s in prison, and St. Paul is sending Onesimus back having baptized Him and is asking them to free him, “That you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother.”So which is it, or we slaves of Christ or are we free? Both, when we make ourselves slaves of Christ, giving ourselves completely to God, then Christ makes us free by giving us the Holy Spirit and making us children of God.
The paradox of the Gospel is that true and lasting happiness only comes when we set aside our own desire for happiness, or pleasure, power, money, and fame, and put other people ahead of ourselves. This is what Jesus did when He became one of us, “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”(Phil 2:6-11). Jesus emptied Himself, took on our human condition, and willingly bore the Cross and was crucified for us. We must now do what Jesus did. Married people, put your husband or wife ahead of yourself. Parents, put your children ahead of yourselves. Young people, strive to grow in virtue and holiness, to become ready to accept your full responsibility as a Christian. We must all strive to love as Christ loved, and especially those who are most in need.
True happiness is not found in pleasure, which is only temporary; it is found in being close to God. In the same way, true love is not found in warm and fuzzy feelings, which come and go out of our control; true love is found in doing what Jesus did for us and putting the needs of others ahead of our own. As we celebrate the Eucharist, the memorial of Christ Cross and Resurrection, let us ask God to fill us with the love of Jesus and draw us ever closer to His Most Sacred Heart.
If you’ve been around the Catholic Church very much, then you’ve surely noticed a priest imposing hands over or laying hands on some object or person, for example, when he’s blessing something or someone, or in the sacraments. In the Mass the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine during the epiclesis of the Eucharistic Prayer, in the ordination of a priest or deacon the bishop lays his hands on their heads before praying the Prayer of Ordination, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation the priest holds his hand over the person while praying the Prayer of Absolution. This is a symbol of the priest calling down the Holy Spirit to give grace, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). So, extending the hands in blessing is a priestly act of calling down the Holy Spirit, but what is that blessing actually doing for us.
The first blessings we see in the Bible occur in the Book of Genesis. We see Isaac blessing Jacob and Jacob blessing his children and grandchildren. The blessings in Genesis are of fathers blessing their children, as when Isaac blesses Jacob and makes him his primary heir. A blessing can also make someone who isn’t your child into your child. The 12 tribes of Israel are the sons of Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel, except that the rest of the Bible often speaks of the half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. These were Joseph’s two sons, who received a special blessing from Israel, and from that point on they were listed with the sons of Israel instead of his grandchildren.
In the book of Judges we read about Micah, who set up a shrine in his land and was looking for a priest for the shrine. One day, a Levite, the priestly tribe, was passing through, and Micah asked him to stay and be their priest, saying, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, and a suit of apparel, and your living” (Jdg 17:10). So, a priest, in the Old Testament, is seen as a type of spiritual father. This continues in the New Testament, when St. Paul calls himself a father to those whom he has brought into the faith, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). In both the Old and New Testaments, the one who blesses, the priest, is considered a spiritual father, because through the blessing of God we become children of God.
In the Sacraments, whenever the priest imposes hands over something he calls down the Holy Spirit and that thing changes. In the Mass, the Holy Spirit, changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation our sins are forgiven and our souls cleansed. In Baptism the priest lays his hand on your head, you are reborn through water and the Holy Spirit, and you become a child of God. If, then, we are children of God, let us follow the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the way we live our lives.
Fr. Bryan Howard
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 1 September 2019
Today’s second reading ends with the lines, “You have approached Mount Zion… and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” You might remember the story of Cain and Abel from grade school religion classes. They were two brothers, the children of Adam and Eve. They both made offerings to God, but only Abel’s offering was accepted. Cain, in a jealous rage, kills his brother Abel. God tells Cain, “Listen! Your brothers blood cries out to me from the soil” (Gn 4:10). Whereas Abel’s blood cries out for punishment, the blood of Christ was shed for the salvation of the world and the forgiveness of sins. That is why the blood of Christ “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” When Christ was hanging from the Cross, even as His blood was still dripping to the ground, He turned to the men who had nailed Him to the Cross and prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). If Christ can pray for the forgiveness of the greatest sin ever committed, His own murder, then He can certainly forgive our sins., if we repent of them, so that we may be transformed in the love of God.
Imagine if your neighbor knocks on your door and tells you, “I forgive you for washing your own car.” Well, there’s nothing there to forgive, because it’s your car, so you can wash it whenever you want to. Now, imagine if he says to you, “I forgive you for stealing the tools I let you borrow,” and you respond, “Well, I don’t believe in private property, so it was my right to take those tools.” Now you have a real problem. How can there be forgiveness if there’s no repentance? How can you forgive someone who neither recognizes the wrong they’ve done nor wants to be forgiven? God respects our freedom and won’t force His mercy and forgiveness on us.
Imagine a second scenario. Adolf Hitler has just died and is standing at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter. Looking in, he sees people of all races and groups centered around God, and many people who were killed because of his orders and policies. Would he want to go in, or would he instead think that this cannot be paradise and, instead, choose the alternative. To him, the reality of heaven would be hell, unless he repents and allows himself to be truly transformed in the love of God. Of course, the sin that we should be most concerned with is our own. Hitler’s sins can’t keep me out of heaven, only my own sins can do that.
A lot of people don’t like to talk about forgiveness of sins, because that would be to admit that sin is a real thing. To truly ask for forgiveness and receive it, we must first admit that what we’ve done is wrong, that we’ve offended God and hurt others and ourselves, and that our sins have separated us from God and God’s love. That takes humility. Humility means to recognize the truth about myself and others, so that I recognize that God is God, that I’m not, and that I need His mercy and forgiveness.
Now read today’s Gospel again. Jesus says, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’… Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’” Jesus isn’t teaching people a trick to make themselves look good in front of other people. He’s teaching a spiritual lesson about our relationship with God. Lower yourself and recognize that you aren’t that important and don’t deserve the place of honor. As Jesus says in another place, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” (Lk 17:10). Then, God will come and move you to a higher place in heaven.
Humility isn’t the most important virtue, that would be love, but it is the foundation of all the other virtues. Without humility we can’t grow in virtue because we don’t recognize our faults, we don’t recognize our need for help from both God and other people, and so we don’t repent and pray for God’s help to grow in holiness. So, how do we grow in humility? I’ll give you three things you can start doing today. First, practice gratitude. Find at least three things every day to thank God for. This reminds us that we rely on God and on His grace in our lives and that we can’t do it all by ourselves. Second, practice listening. humility makes us try to find the wisdom in what other people are saying, instead of always trying to our own wisdom. There is a great danger for those who teach others, like priests. You can’t truly listen to someone else without valuing there opinion and thinking that they might say something worth hearing. Third, make a good confession. When we go to the Sacrament of Confession we have to bear our soul to God and let His light and life in. When we make a good confession by focusing on our own sins and not on someone else’s, don’t make excuses, and confess all of our sins that we can remember, it’s a humbling experience to receive forgiveness from our God who loves us more than we love ourselves.
Christ shed His blood for our sins, not to force us to do things His way, but to truly transform us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the spirit of humility, I want to end with the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who says it much more eloquently than I can, “Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return…The Bridegroom’s love… asks in return nothing but faithful love.”
It is part of Catholic doctrine that the Pope has the authority to teach on matters of faith and morals. This means that the Church doesn’t speak with any more authority than anyone else on matters of plumbing, nor can the Church teach on matters of astrophysics, nor can she tell you the best bait to use when fishing for black drum. The Church is charged with preserving the teachings of Jesus with regard to faith, what we believe about God, and to morals, what is right and wrong, good and bad. Today, many people doubt not only the Church’s actual teachings on morality but even the Church’s authority to teach on morality.
The primary way to teach morality is not through sermons, lectors, and books; it is through example. The example given by members of the hierarchy in recent decades, including priests, bishops, and even cardinals, has magnified this doubt a hundred times. People ask themselves why they should listen to anything that the Church says. They say that our teachings must not be any good if this is what it leads to. If these men had paid more attention to the moral teachings of the Church and let them be more than empty words but guidelines for their actions, then much pain and suffering could have been avoided. The authority that we have means that we have a greater responsibility to act always for the good of others and never to harm them. I am not qualified to judge them, but one day they will stand before One Who Is, as St. Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).
St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, wrote this about the responsibility of being a bishop, “Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian. The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation,” and in praying to God, said, “Make my ministry fruitful… The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the gospel’s opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be given your backing, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.”
I say let us together seek the truth, and then, having found it, walk in it. We are called to truly love everyone, but not in the way that we love pizza, where people can disagree on the best toppings, or as an emotion, which may come and go, but as a firm commitment to do good to others, no matter how I may personally feel. The moral teachings of the Church are all about teachings us how to truly love God and our neighbor. They are there to guide us in living as a disciple of Christ. May God help me and all of us to always act in love, to always do the best for those around us, especially those most in need, and thus to give an example that leads people to the love of God.
Fr. Bryan Howard
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 18 August 2019
In the 19th century atheism became very popular among intellectuals. Many of them thought that God and religion were basically created by people to give them comfort in their terrible lives. Some of them, like Nietzsche, recognized that life is ultimately meaningless if there is no God, because, eventually, everything would be dead. Others, like Ludwig Feuerbach, thought that religion was holding people back from attaining their true potential. He saw religion as something to comfort people with the thought of a merciful God and eternal happiness in heaven. As Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx, pointing out that the word feuerbach means “stream of fire” in German, said that people need to be baptized in the stream of fire of Feuerbach’s atheism. Today, the Lord speaks of another fire with which He wants to baptize the world, but He means the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Fire can be comforting, like sitting around a campfire or a fireplace, but it’s only comforting if it’s under our control. What those intellectuals don’t understand about religion is that, if God is real, then we aren’t the ones in control, HE IS. We like to think of God as someone quite distant from our lives, Who just sort of lets us get on with things. It’s even better if we see Him as an impersonal force. We believe in a God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, a God who loves us and calls us to love Him in return, and a God who, when we were lost in sin, came down to find us and bring us back to Him.
There’s no where in the Bible where Jesus tells us to just keep living our lives however we want and we’ll be fine. Instead, we are told, “Let us rid ourself of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race,” “Take up your Cross daily and follow me,” “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood,” and to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is broad and the road narrow that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” They don’t crucify people who keep the status quo, they crucify people who challenge the authorities, call people to conversion, and who won’t compromise what is right for temporary gain or personal comfort. It’s true that God is merciful, but in His mercy He doesn’t just want to forgive our sins but to help us to cast them from our lives.
God is real. If we were inventing a God for ourselves, we wouldn’t invent a God who challenges us. We do sometimes project human emotions and traits onto God, but in faith we recognize that God is far beyond us. He is eternal, without beginning or end, and He is the Creator of the universe, and we know from logic that there must be a Creator. Every that exists was caused by something else, but if you follow the train of causes all the way back, you have to come to a first cause. That’s why many atheists thought that the universe was eternal, that it was never created but just was always there. Now we know that the universe as we know it came to exist in the Big Bang, but what caused the Big Bang? If they eventually find a cause for the Big Bang, then we’d have to ask what caused that. There must be a First Cause that doesn’t depend on anything else to exist, and we call this First Cause, God.
God is infinitely beyond us, but He came to be with us, and to be one of us, so that we can be with Him, and be like Him. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” When you receive the Eucharist today, know that you are receiving into your body the very Creator of the Universe, He Who Is, the Source of all life, God Himself. Ask Him to fill you with the fire of His Spirit, to walk the narrow way, to not be satisfied with mediocrity but to strive for perfection, the perfection which only Christ can give.
Last Thursday was the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven and next Thursday is the Feast of the Coronation of Our Lady. We call Mary the Queen of Heaven and Earth, but what does that even mean? Many Protestants think that Catholics worship Mary or consider her to be equal to God, but they don’t understand that Catholic believe what we do about Mary because of what we believe about Jesus.
They say that the Bible doesn’t say that Mary is Queen. However, the Book of Revelation says, “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: and being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered… and she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne” (Rev 12:1-2, 5). This is talking primarily about the Blessed Virgin Mary, who literally gave birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah destined to rule the nations. It makes us think of another prophecy in the Book of Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). We may think of this as the people of Israel, who were made up of 12 tribes and from whom the Messiah came, or we can think of it as the Church, which began with the 12 apostles and which St. Paul calls the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ. After all, the bride of a king would be a queen, right?
That’s actually not the case with the Middle East in general and ancient Israel in particular. Starting with King Solomon, the Son of David, it is the mother of the king who is given the position of honor as Queen-Mother. After Solomon assumed the throne he had a throne set up for his mother, Bathsheba, at his right hand and even bowed down to her (1 Kings 2:19), which reminds us that Jesus Himself, was, as a child, obedient to Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:51). In the Davidic kingdom the Queen Mother exercised a lot of influence. People would go to the Queen Mother and ask her to take their requests to the King, and she would intercede on their behalf (1 Kg 2:13-35), although the answer was not always yes. When we call Mary Queen, it is because we know that Jesus is the true Son of David, heir to the throne of Israel, and King of the Universe.
This kingdom is not one of worldly power and authority, but a Kingdom of grace and of love. Christ doesn’t rule over us as a tyrant, but He takes us into His family, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rm 8:16-17).
Remember that the Book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John, and in his Gospel St. John never refers to Mary by name. He always calls her “woman,” like at the Wedding at Cana (Jn 2:4) and at the foot of the Cross, when Jesus gave her to “the disciple whom he loved” as his mother and gave the disciple to her as her son (Jn 19:26). We are all disciples whom Jesus loves, and Jesus gave His mother to all of us as our mother. If Jesus has made us, by His Cross and Resurrection, children of His Heavenly Father, then He has also made us children of His mother, Mary. When we say that Mary is Queen of Heaven and Earth we are not making her equal to God, for it is only through her Son, Jesus Christ, that she is honored. Her glory is merely a reflection of His glory. May she teach us to love her Son as she does.
Fr. Bryan Howard
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 11 August 2019
When I was growing up I used to either walk home from school or ride my bike. I would come in through the back door, into the kitchen, where Maw Maw would usually already be getting dinner ready. We had a sort of tradition where I would try to guess what she was making just from the smell, without actually looking at the pots. To this day I can still imagine the smell of port chops in gravy with baked beans, but then I’d have to wait sometimes for as much as two hours until dinner. Paw Paw would always have to go and “test” the food before dinner time. Waiting is a part of life that we experience every day and that we try to reduce as much as possible. We’ve invented telephones for instant communication, self-checkout lanes at stores, and next day shipping. Our readings today are all about waiting, but active waiting, making themselves ready to receive what they’re waiting for.
We, like them, are always waiting for God. We wait for Him to tell us what He wants us to do, we wait for Him to speak to us and give us grace, and we wait for heaven, but how do we make ourselves ready to receive what He wants to give us?
The Letter to the Hebrews gives us Abraham as an example of faith. God promised to give Abraham the land that He would lead him to, but Abraham had to set out on his journey without knowing where He was going, and even when He got there he didn’t possess the land. He lived in a tent as a nomad, and his descendants wouldn’t take possession of the land until hundreds of years later. God also promised to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore of the sea. The name Abram actually means “exalted father,” but Abraham didn’t actually have any children at all until he was almost 90 years old, then God changed his name to “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” This is ridiculous, he had one change, that’s not exactly a multitude. Why would God choose a man named Exalted Father as the father of his chosen people and then not give him a son until he was almost 90 years old? It’s because Abraham is to be the Father of Faith. As the Bible says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gn 15:6).
Hebrews says about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.” In his journey with God, Abraham learns to trust the Lord. At times he stumbles and falls, but he always turns back to God. He learns to trust that God will keep His promises, will keep His word, even though the promises are never fulfilled in his lifetime. We are Abraham’s children through faith, not by blood. We are called to follow his example of faith.
Just like Abraham, God made promises to us when Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). Just like Abraham we have a journey ahead of us, a pilgrimage or religious journey, before we can receive the promise. Just like Abraham, we won’t reach our destination until after we’ve died, as St. Paul said, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rm 6:8).
That’s why, in the Gospel, Jesus says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We aren’t called to just sit around waiting for God to do all the work; we are called to prepare for the Day of the Lord by cooperating with God’s grace working in our lives. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples to gird their loins and light their lamps, to care for their fellow servants, and not to mistreat them. Just like Abraham obeyed God, even when it was difficult, so our faith should lead to obedience of the commandments. As Jesus said, “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.”
The end of today’s Gospel should be especially concerning to those who teach the faith, like myself, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” So can we just claim ignorance as an excuse for our sins? No, because we are morally required to seek the truth and live it. Deliberate ignorance is itself a sin. Only genuine ignorance, or, as the Church calls us, invincible ignorance, is an excuse.
Finally, I want to talk about judging others. We try to justify ourselves by pointing at others. “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.” We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people, but to God. Don’t try to be better than someone else, but to be the person that God is calling you to be, and always be harder on your own sins than on someone else’s. Hypocrisy is the sin of being harder on others than on yourselves, and Jesus is constantly calling out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, like when he told His disciples to do what they say, but not what they do. They teach the truth, but they don’t follow it themselves.
At the beginning of Mass I mentioned that yesterday was the Feast of St. Lawrence. When the Roman’s came to arrest Pope St. Sixtus and the oath six deacons of the Church of Rome, the spared St. Lawrence the Deacon and told him that he had 4 days to gather the treasury of the Church of Rome and turn it over, or else. He did gather the treasury, and he gave it to the needy. He went to the Roman officials with a group of the poor, indigent, sick, widows, and orphans, and told them, “Here is the treasure of the Church.” They martyred Him by roasting him on a gridiron, but he went to his death with good humor, telling the executioners, “Flip me over, I’m done on this side.” He could go to his death with joy, because he had faith in the promise of eternal life. Every time we approach this altar to receive the Eucharist we are given a taste, or a promise, as it were, of what awaits us in heaven. Prepare yourself every day so that, when that day comes, you can receive what was promised with joy.
When I was growing up, I always liked learning things, but I didn’t always like school. I usually preferred to either just sit and talk with someone or go off on my own and figure it out. In fact, when I would struggle with a concept I often needed to go off on my own and turn it over in my mind so I could wrap my head around it. I couldn’t accept something until I had seen the logic of it. We can learn from anything experience that we have, but there are some experiences and people that have a deeper impact on us than others. For example, there was the time when I was driving my very first car home for the first time. It was an ’87 Ford Ranger, and it was raining. That day, I learned not to oversteer on wet roads when there’s nothing in the bed of your truck, because you might just put your truck in the ditch. I was alright, and so was the truck, but my dad had to hook up a toe cable to get me out.
For most of us, our parents are the most influential people in our lives, because they’ve been influencing how we think, what we value, and how we understand life and the universe since before we could even understand English. This is what the Church means by saying that parents are the primary educators of their children; that, whether they are trying to teach their children or not, their children are learning far more from their example than they ever will from a school teacher. It’s important that parents recognize this and be deliberate about what they’re teaching their children.
I was blessed to have a family who went to Mass together every Sunday, a mom who did my religion homework with me just like the rest of my homework, and grandparents who were always happy for us to pray the Rosary with them before bed. God was simply a normal and important part of our lives. Is God a normal part of your lives? Is it normal to go to Church, to talk about God, and to pray? Would your children look at you funny if you started praying grace before meals or if you make the sign of the Cross when you drive in front of a Catholic Church? Remember that it’s never too late to start. My family didn’t start praying grace before meals until I was in high school and my brother made that his Lenten penance one year, so the whole family started doing it.
Parents, you have a huge amount of influence in how your children view life and what’s truly important. If God isn’t a normal part of your lives, then you’re teaching them that God isn’t that important. If He is, then they’ll still have to decide for themselves whether or not to place their faith in God, but you’re preparing them to make that decision to the best of your ability.
Fr. Bryan Howard
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 4 August 2019
Jesus says that the first and most important commandment is to Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind, and all your soul, and that second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. God made us for love, and we naturally want to devote ourselves to another person or thing, like God, our spouse and children, or our country. Unfortunately, we often get the things that we love out of balance. When God is first in our lives, the One we are devoted to above everything else, then we have the help of God to love everyone else in our lives better, in the way that God loves us, by putting their needs ahead of our own. We are created for love, for devotion, but we sometimes devote ourselves to the wrong things, or to the right things in the wrong way, and this can lead us to neglect the things that ought to come first in our lives.
We don’t worship statues anymore like our ancestors did, but the Bible calls those idols, “the work of our hands,” because people were worshiping something that they had created; we still struggle with worshiping the work of our own hands. We think that having more money will bring safety and happiness. Money can bring a certain amount of stability, safety, and happiness to our lives and allow us to take care of our families, but only temporarily. The book of Ecclesiastes says, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property,” and in the Gospel, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Money is only helpful in this life; it is completely useless in the afterlife. Will you spend all of your time preparing for the trials of this life and neglect to prepare for the afterlife? As Christ said, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Sometimes it’s not money in general, but certain things in particular that we become overly attached to. Is there anything in your life that you just can’t live without? Is there anything in your life that you wouldn’t want to leave even to go to heaven? When we become too attached to something, it’s starts to control us, to influence how we make decisions. Do you possess the things in your life, or do they possess you? Some people can get like that about their appearance, or their car, or football or other TV shows, or their pets. None of these things should come before God or before your family. Used properly, they can elevate our lives, but, used improperly, they can become like an anchor holding us down. Don’t let them bring you all the way down.
When we neglect our relationship with God, these other things naturally fill up that space in our lives. However, if we give the type of devotion that should be reserved only for God to anything else, then we are com
mitting idolatry. None of those thing can bring us fulfillment even in this life, much less in eternal life. We were created for something better, for something more, and when we give ourselves to something that is less, then we become less. We become more like what we worship. If we worship things, then we will become like those things, but if we worship God He will raise us up to be like Himself, even in this life, and for eternity in heaven.
Worship never stops at just words; it is, as I said at the beginning, true devotion. When we are devoted to something we give it our time, our attention, and our respect. The best way to guard against making something an idol in your life is to be truly devoted to God, as St. Paul wrote, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Give Him your time, go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Give Him your attention. God has given us a great gift in the Bible; it teaches us about God, about God’s will for our lives, and about how to be saved. If you’re not sure how to get started, I think the best way is to read the readings for the next Sunday during the week and let them start to soak in throughout the week. You can find them by googling “Catholic Mass readings,” or by purchasing a Sunday Missal from any Catholic book store, like Pauline’s Books and Media in Metairie. Finally, give God respect. We disrespect God in so many ways, by taking His name in vain, by making promises to Him and not keeping them, by blaspheming Him and His mother. Disrespect for others is becoming more and more common in the United States. If we can’t respect God because He created us and sent His Son to redeem us, then we should at least learn to fear Him, as Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
This week, ask yourself what the idols in your life are and how they influence your life an decisions. Ask God to help you to dethrone those idols and crown Him as King in your life and in your family.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.