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.
This Tuesday is the Feast of the Transfiguration. On Mt. Tabor Jesus was transfigured and revealed His glory to Peter, James, and John, and Moses and Elijah appeared and they talked about Jesus’ upcoming Passion and death. Jesus showed all of this to Peter, James, and John to strengthen them, knowing that their faith would be tested by His arrest and crucifixion. Do we believe that we can also be transfigured by Jesus? That our families and communities can be transfigured?
In the prayer, “Hail, Holy Queen, which we pray at the end of the Rosary, we ask Mary, “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we lift up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us and show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” We call this life the “valley of tears,” because here we are “banished” from our true home in heaven and our own sins separate us from God. So, we sigh, mourn, and weep for our sins and the sins of the world. Therefore, we ask Mary to show us Jesus, to bring us close to Jesus, to “make us worthy of the promises of Christ.”
St. Paul wrote, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer. For he that is dead is justified from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with Christ” (Rm 6:6-8). We must kill sin with ourselves. We should show mercy to other people, but we shouldn’t show mercy to our own sins.
The Christian practice of mortification, from the Latin mortis, meaning “of dead,” is the practice of denying our bodily wants so that we can train ourselves to reject sin. Athletes and soldiers train themselves for the contest; mortification is one part of Christian training. All sin comes from a desire for something good that becomes twisted. Food is good, but an inordinate desire for food is gluttony. Honor is good, but a twisted desire for personal honor is pride. We all need rest to regain our physical and mental strength, but the desire to only rest and never work is laziness. We can train ourselves and strengthen our own willpower by denying ourselves even good things, so that we can better say no to sinful things. The Catholic tradition is to do this on Fridays to remember that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. You might want to abstain from meat on Fridays, or give up TV, to put the A/C a few degrees hotter or colder than you normally would, or any number of other possibilities. It should be a real sacrifice, but not something that will harm your health.
If we want to return to our true home in heaven, to be transfigured in the glory of God and live together with Christ, then we must take up our Crosses daily and follow after Him.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.