At Mass about a month ago a made a comment about the reason that we do so much kneeling, sitting, and standing at Mass, and I got so many comments about it that I decided to expand on that a bit more in this article. It amazes me that this is one of the most common complaints about the Mass and is used as a reason for people not to go to Mass. The Mass isn’t something that we passively sit through but is something that we have to actively participate in. It isn’t just about what God is giving us, the Eucharist, but it’s also about what we are offering Him, our own lives, even if His gift to us is far greater than our gift to Him. That’s why we need to actively participate in the Mass in different ways: mentally, by paying attention to the readings homily, etc., spiritually, by praying along with the prayers, and physically, by using our bodily posture and gestures.
We kneel, sit, or stand at specific times in the Mass based on what’s happening in the Mass at that time. We sit down during the readings from the Old and New Testament and the homily to show that we are receptive to what we’re hearing. We stand during certain prayers and during the readings of the Gospel to show reverence and respect and that we are actively participating in those prayers, not just letting someone else pray for us. We kneel during the Eucharistic prayer and after receiving Communion because we recognize that Jesus Christ is now present with us in the Eucharist and desire to worship Him.
This shows that we worship God with both our soul and our body. Yoda may think that we are really only our souls, like he said to Luke in Star Wars, episode V, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” but Christians believe that God created us body and soul, that the body is good, and that our bodies will be resurrected at the end of time. If our bodies are gifts from God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and destined to be raised up to heaven after the Resurrection of the Dead, then we should use them even now to worship God.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Advent – Year C – 9 December 2018
During this time of year we are tempted to indulge ourselves in all of the things that we like, and to indulge ourselves to excess. At Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, if we don’t eat to the point of barely being able to move, then we feel like we failed. Consumerism and consumption are the rule of the day. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but we are all tempted by our consumerist culture and can easily be tempted to overdo it. We need to get the newest smart phone, even though last year’s model was probably more than sufficient. Some of the companies even design the phone so that you can’t just replace the battery and so have to buy an entire new phone. And it’s not just phones, lots of companies design their products to fail or go obsolete after a certain amount of time so you have to buy a new one. Did you ever wonder why car companies come out with new models and designs of cars every few years? Well, GM started the practice in 1924 as an incentive for people to buy a new car even though their old one was still working just fine.
Over-indulgence is always bad. Drinking too much alcohol, eating too much, gambling too much, and spending too much eventually lead to problems like addictions, health problems, and damaged relationships. Virtue is in moderation: not too much and not too little. Courage, for example, is the mid-point between cowardice, not enough courage, and recklessness, too much courage. Temperance is the mid-point between lust and gluttony, excessive indulgence, and puritanism, the excessive denial of bodily pleasure.
We usually fall more on the side of excessive indulgence and not enough on the side of self-denial, but we need both in order to be balanced both physically and spiritually. The Church has a lot less rules about fasting than she used to. We are no longer required to abstain from meat every Friday, just in Lent now, but we are still required to do some sort of penance or to fast from something, whether that’s meat or sweats or television or something else of your choosing. It should be something that you’ll actually miss, a real sacrifice for God. Through these acts of self-denial we train ourselves to be able to say no to our desires and impulses. If we only ever give in to those temptations then our desires will begin to rule over us. If I can learn to say no even to good things, things that aren’t sinful, out of love for God, then I’ll be better able to say no when I am tempted to sin.
What is the most important thing in life? Money, pleasure, prestige are temporary and fleeting. They last a little while and then they’re gone. We can’t take them with us when we die, and they can’t even give us true joy here on earth. Don’t let the things in your life distract you from the purpose of your life: to love and serve God in this life and to praise Him forever in heaven. In today’s Gospel we’re encouraged to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and to fill in every valley and level every mountain. The valleys and mountains are the things in our lives that keep us from God. Advent is about preparing to welcome Jesus at Christmas, so let’s really prepare to welcome Him.
The first way you can do that is by fasting and self-denial. When you fast, increase your hunger for the Lord.
Another way you can do that is by buying someone an anonymous gift or doing something for them in secret. That way, they can’t pay you back or return the favor.
Also, after Christmas when you’re putting away all of the things people gave you, pick out one or two of your older things to donate to good will.
Finally, if you have children, come up with a family charity to donate to this Christmas. Let the kids help pick it out and contribute to the donation from their own money.
In these ways we can all learn that Christmas isn’t about the things that we receive; it’s about the love that we receive from God and that we give back to God and one another in return.
If you are a baptized Catholic, then you have a patron saint. He or she was picked for you when you were baptized, but you may not know who it is. It may be that you share your first or middle name with a saint, or maybe some other saint was picked for you. If your parents didn’t pick a patron saint for you by naming you after a saint, then the priest or deacon who baptized you probably did; we often choose St. Joseph for boys and the Blessed Virgin Mary for girls. I share my middle name with St. Joseph, and I picked St. Joseph for my confirmation saint as well. If you don’t have a patron saint or don’t know who it is, then hopefully by the end of this article you’ll be determined to pick one, to learn about them, and to develop a relationship with them.
First of all, your patron saint will act as an example for you to show you how to live as a follower of Christ, show virtue in difficult circumstances, and grow in your relationship with God. The first step to being declared a saint is for the Church to examine someone’s life to see if they lived with heroic virtue. The Church will examine their life, any records that they left behind, and interview people still living who knew them. If they pass this step they are proclaimed venerable, like Venerable Mother Henriette Delille. When the Church canonized someone as a saint it doesn’t mean that they were perfect or that they never sinned, but it does mean that they make a good example for Christians today. That’s why it’s important to actually learn about the lives of the saints, especially your patron saint. Learn about their life and read any writings they left; you may learn something that will help you in your own life.
The saints aren’t just examples, though, they are living in heaven, and we’re still connected to them through the Holy Spirit. We, the saints in heaven and the members of the Church on earth, are all members of the one Body of Christ. We should ask the saints to pray and intercede for us because they are closer to Christ than we are, since they’re already in heaven and see God face to face. We underestimate the power of prayer too often. We believe that God is all powerful, all knowing, all good, and present everywhere. Since He is present everywhere He isn’t limited to helping one person at a time. In His goodness He desires the good for us, in His omniscience He knows the best way to help us, and in His omnipotence He has the ability to do it. “If God can do all that, then why,” you may ask, “do we need to pray at all?” We pray, not to tell God what we want or what to do, but to increase our desire for the graces and blessings that God already wants to give us that we might grow in holiness. The saints can help us by showing us what holiness is, so we can desire it all the more, since they live in the presence of God Who is the source of all holiness.
Last year, when the School of Religion classes were still being held in the Church, the kids would see me putting on and taking off my vestments before and after Mass. I was told that one of them went home and told his mom that I have a whole closet full of fancy capes and things, which is exactly right, they are basically just fancy robes and capes and things, but they’re also more than that. The word vestments simply means clothes. Chasuble is an ancient word for a coat, cincture is an old Latin word for belt, and cope comes from the same Latin word as cape, because that’s what it is. So, why don’t we just wear normal clothes for Mass? That’s what most protestant ministers do, but Catholic and Orthodox clergy, who can trace their origins back to the apostles themselves, wear fancy vestments for Mass and for the sacraments.
We wear vestments because it’s not about the priest, it’s about the sacrament. The vestments cover the priests own clothes from his collar all the way down to his ankles, and bishops even wear hats for Mass, to cover even more of themselves. The priest, in the Mass, is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. He acts in the name of Christ and not in his own name and with Christ’s authority, not his own authority.
Wearing special clothing for religious rites goes all the way back to the Old Testament to the high priest Aaron. God gave the design for those vestments to Moses and they showed that Aaron stood before God on behalf of the people. Catholic vestments have meaning as well. The amice goes around the neck to cover the collar of the shirt, and it symbolizes the “helmet of salvation” (Eph 6:17). The white robe, traditionally made of linen (but not necessarily now), is the bottom layer of vestments and goes down to the ankle; it represents purity and reminds the priest or deacon of their baptism. The alb is secured by a rope called a cincture which represents continence and chastity.
Over the alb is worn the stole, in the color of the day or season, which represents the authority of the priest or deacon before God. The priests stole is worn hanging straight down, like the Jewish’s priests prayer shawl, and the deacon’s stole is worn across the chest, like the cord that held a Roman legionnaire’s sword. The prayer which is prayed while donning the stole reminds the clergyman of their need for God’s mercy. Over everything else, a deacon wears a dalmatic and a priest wears a chasuble in the color of the day or season. The deacon’s dalmatic represents asking the Lord to cover him in salvation, joy, and justice. The priest’s chasuble represents asking the Lord to cover him in charity or love. Nothing is allowed to be worn over the chasuble, as charity and love should go over everything else.
As we don our vestments and pray the appropriate vesting prayers, we also spiritually prepare ourselves to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, so the vestments, in addition to showing that the Mass is not about ourselves and symbolizing the role of the priest and deacon, also remind us that we are doing the most important thing that we will ever do, uniting ourselves to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ through the Most Holy Eucharist.
Crossing the Threshold of Hope
by Pope St. John Paul II
Pope St. John Paul II served as Pope during a time of great change in the world and in the Church. He was elected in 1978 as the second pope after the end of the Second Vatican Council and would have the task of continuing the implementation of the Council documents, which had caused such great upheaval in the Church. He would serve as Pope until his death in 2005. In the intervening years, he would be instrumental in bringing about the peaceful fall of the Soviet Union and see cultural changes throughout the entire world. Not the least of these was the invention of the personal computer and the explosion in popularity of the internet in the mid-1990s. During this time he was known for his personal holiness and love for God and the Church.
He wrote a large number of books in his life, both before and after becoming Pope. Crossing the Threshold of Hopeis different because it is the record of an extensive “interview” that Pope St. John Paul II gave to the journalist and author Vittorio Messori. Messori gave the pope a list of questions that were originally intended for a televised interview which fell apart at the last moment due to the Pope’s schedule. However, the Holy Father answered the questions in writing and the result is this book. The Holy Father answers questions about his prayer life and how to pray, the existence of God, Jesus and salvation, evil and suffering, other religions, communism, the new evangelization, and more.
I preached from an outline this week instead of a complete text, but I did want to post some of the resources that I used.
You can find the readings for the November 18, 2018, HERE.
I used the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Second Coming, paragraphs 668-679, which can be found HERE.
I also referenced Philippians 2:10-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-30.
Heaven and Hell
Heaven and hell are a reality that we have to consider, because we’ll ultimately end up in one or the other, so it’s a good idea to understand what they are. Heaven and hell aren’t places that we go. Heaven isn’t a place where all of our dreams come true, and hell isn’t a place where demons torture the souls of the condemned, as if it’s some sort of spiritual dungeon. Heaven is the state of being in complete union with God and hell means being eternally separated from God.
Jesus Christ redeemed us through His death, Resurrection, and ascension into heaven and thus reconciled us to God. Heaven is the community of all those who are perfectly united with Christ; we call these people the angels and saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes heaven like this, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (paragraph 1024). We were made for heaven because God made us for love, and God is love. Being is perfect union with God means to love perfectly and to be completely filled with love. Since heaven isn’t a place we can begin to experience it here on earth whenever we are united with Jesus. We experience heaven when share God’s love with one another through acts of charity, when we experience the presence of God in prayer, and, most of all, when we unite ourselves to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Holy Mass and receive Him in the Most Holy Eucharist.
The Catechism goes on to say, “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves… To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (1033). In the Gospels, Jesus often speaks of hell as being cast out into the darkness, where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.” Hell is a place of punishment, but that punishment is one that we bring on ourselves by our own choices. If we live apart from God here on earth, we shouldn’t be surprised if we are separated from Him for eternity.
No one is predestined to go to hell; only those who turn away from God through mortal sin and persist in it. However, everyone sins, as St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For all have sinned and all are in need of the glory of God. We have been justified by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:23-24). While we pray for mercy and the grace of God in prayers like the Our Father (“lead us not into temptation”) and the Hail Mary (“pray for us now and at the hour of our death”), we should also remember that we must all, bishops, clergy, and lay people, Catholics and protestants, Christians and non-Christians, stand before our Just Judge after we die. Let us strive to live so that we can welcome that day not with terror but with rejoicing.
Fr. Bryan Howard
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 11 November 2018
Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was called, at the time, the Great War and the War to End All Wars. At 5 am in the morning the armistice was signed, and at 11 am, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the fighting ended. The war had left over 16 million dead, almost 10 million soldiers and about 6 million civilians, at the time that was about 1% of the population of the world. The war left all of Europe traumatized, so it’s fitting that today we reflect on the reality of death and on what follows after.
Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, I wanted to start by posing the question, “What would you be willing to die for?” Normally, we protect our lives with more determination than anything else, but there are some things that we value even above our live, and these are the things for which we may be willing to give our lives: family, freedom, homeland, and faith. Those who give their lives for the faith are called martyrs, and they get a one way ticket to heaven, and Jesus even said, “Greater love than this has no man, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
But what happens when we die? Spiritually, death is when the soul separates from the body, which happens when the body can no longer live. After death, the soul is immediately judged by God and either goes to purgatory, heaven, or hell. At the end of time there will be another judgement when purgatory will be closed down and all souls will be divided between heaven and hell, but your individual soul is judged right after you die. Those who die unrepentant for their mortal sins go to hell, because they’ve chosen to separate themselves from the grace of God by how they’ve lived their lives. Those who die in a state of grace, that is, those who strive to follow God in their lives, who repent of their sins, and who love God and neighbor, either go to purgatory or heaven. God is merciful, and forgives the sins of those who repent, but God is also just, and expects us to make up for our sins. If we don’t make up for them here on earth, then we must make up for them in purgatory. Now, purgatory isn’t fun, the Bible describes it as passing through the fire, but it’s also a place of great hope, because once you’re in purgatory you know that you will get to heaven eventually.
However, we believe that death does not mean that we are completely separated from our loved ones; we are still connected through the Holy Spirit and through the grace of baptism. We can still help the souls in purgatory by praying and sacrificing for them, just like we can pray for the living. The saints can help both the living and the souls in purgatory through their prayers, and the souls in purgatory help pray for us once they get to heaven.
Life is a great gift, because as long as we live we can repent and turn back to the Lord. Once we die we’ve lost that opportunity. I asked you before, “What would you be willing to die for?” Just as important is the question, “What do you live for?” That is the question that our Gospel asks us today. Jesus begins by rebuking those who prey on others for their own benefit, saying, “Beware of the scribes…. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” This goes for anyone who takes advantage of those who are most vulnerable or who only live for themselves. Whenever we act out of pride, greed, hate, envy, lust, gluttony, or sloth we are putting ourselves ahead of others and ahead of God.
However, Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t sin,” he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and, “They will know you are my disciples by the love that you have for one another.” The second part of today’s Gospel describes how Jesus watched people making their donations at the Temple, “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’” That’s what it means to live a life of heroic virtue. The widow gave all that she had, and we’re called to give all that we have for God and for our neighbor. Just like in war very few soldiers get the opportunity to impact the outcome of a battle by one great heroic act, but it’s the quiet heroism of all the soldiers that makes a difference. So in life the little sacrifices, the small acts of kindness, the daily heroism of doing for one another without counting the cost is what really makes the difference.
If today is your last day and tonight you have to stand before the judgement seat of God, will you be able to make an account of your life? Live every day as if it might be your last, don’t wait to repent, because it might be too late. Start living now with your eyes set on heaven.
A Memento Mori, meaning “remember death,” is a piece of artwork or writing that calls to mind the fact that we must all face eventually. If you do a google image search for memento mori (which you should only do if you’re not upset by skulls and things like that) you’ll find some very interesting results. Remember that this is a traditional Catholic thing, not heaven metal, punk rock, goth, or something like that. St. Benedict of Nursia said that Christians should, “keep death ever before your eyes,” and on Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are placed on your head, we pray, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” November is the month that we set aside to remember death and to think about the last things that every experiences: death, judgement, and heaven or hell.
When you think about the history of the early Church you can see why people thought about these things. For the first almost 300 years of Christianity it was illegal to be Christian. Many tens of thousands of Christians were killed, mostly by the Roman Empire, and most Christians probably knew someone who had been martyred. Not every Christian who was arrested by the Romans was martyred, of course. Some of them were exiled or given other punishments, and some of the renounced the faith to escape punishment, but many of them refused to worship the emperor and the Roman gods and suffered the ultimate fate, believing that their faith in God would get them to heaven.
Do you think about the reality of death? Do you try to live each day as if it may be your last? Do you focus on the things that are truly important in life or do you put them off for another day? Remembering death can lead us to despair if we don’t believe in the afterlife, but the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and His ascension to heaven gives us hope. Jesus prepared the way for us and opened the gates to heaven. The Memento Mori reminds us that this life is temporary. If we live only for this life, then we will lose everything when we die, but if we build up treasures in heaven then they will be waiting for us when we get there. We build up treasures in heaven by living with our eyes set on Christ, Who said to Martha when her brother Lazarus died, “I am the Resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, although he be dead, shall live: and everyone that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die for ever” (John 11:25-26).
We all know that we have to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, which are the Assumption (August 15), All Saints Day (November 1), the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25), and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1). Have you ever wondered why? In the next few weeks I’ll answer that question and other related to the Mass and the Sacraments.
The Second Vatican Council was a gathering of all the bishops of the Catholic Church to discuss certain issues affecting the Church and society, including the liturgy and sacraments of the Church, the Bible, evangelization, the relationship of priesthood and the laity, and modern society and technology, among other things. It began in October of 1962 and ended in December of 1965. One of the most important topics the Council Fathers (the bishops who attended and voted on the acceptance or rejection of the documents) covered was the Mass.
They called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life,” because the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the presence of God Himself. God is the source of all things, but in a special way He is the source of the Christian life because He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to unite us to Christ. Whenever we receive the Eucharist we are more and more closely united to Jesus Christ. God is also the summit of the Christian life, meaning that He is our goal. The reason that we are Christians is to grow closer to God. That’s what holiness is: closeness to God. The Eucharist is the best way to grow in holiness because we are never closer to God than we are when we receive Communion.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.