Fr. Bryan Howard
Easter Sunday – 20 April 2019
Throughout Holy Week we’ve considered who Jesus is. Jesus is God and man, Jesus is the one who comes among us to serve and to stand as a model for us. Jesus is our Savior. But the theme of this Mass, of the Easter Vigil, is, Lumen Christi, Christ our Light. On Friday after the Service of the Lord’s Passion, the Eucharist is removed from the Church, and tonight Christ re-enters His Church symbolically as the light of the Paschal Candle, and sacramentally in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In the Exsultet, we heard that “This is the night of which it is written: the night shall be as bright as day, dazzling is the night for me, and full of gladness.” Light not only allows us to see, it also gives life, and that is what Christ does for us, He helps us to see the world as it really is and gives us life.
You see, our sins affect us. They affect both the way we act and the way we think. Sin darkens our intellect and affects our ability to reason. We start to make excuses for ourselves and to find all the reasons why it’s really not that bad. Then we start to think that it’s really not bad at all. But to keep thinking that, we have to blind ourselves to the affects of our sin. The Nazi’s, for example, didn’t think that they were the bad guys. They convinced themselves that what they were doing was necessary for the defense of Germany, then they convinced themselves that their victims were lesser humans, and then that they weren’t really humans at all. They called them untermenschen, “under-men.” In smaller and bigger ways, we do this with our own sins. Living in the light of Christ helps us to see through those self-deceptions, and live in the truth.
As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For the wages of sin is death. But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our sins damage and kill our relationship with God, with the Church, with the people around us, our family and friends, and even with ourselves. You know this already. You’ve seen the results of your own sins, the damage they’ve caused. The grace of God restores us to life, just as Christ rose to new Life in the dawn of Easter Sunday, but it’s not a miracle pill. We have to actively live in the light of Christ. We have to actively accept the new life that He’s offering us. You can try to go your own way, but you may not realize your on the wrong path until it’s too late and you’re standing before the Just Judge, God our Father. As a priest I know likes to say, “Don’t be a test pilot.” We’ve been given a road map that we know works in the Gospels, in the Traditions of the Church, and in the lives of the saints.
People used to ask me all the time, “Why do you like going to Mass?” That was before I was a priest, now people just assume that I’m weird. But I would ask them if they realized what was happening on the altar. On that altar, the death and the Resurrection of Jesus are made present for us. All the grace of God is contained in the Eucharist. So, yes, we are required to go to Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of obligation, but, really, we get to go to Mass. Maybe it’s boring to you, and maybe there are other things you’d rather be doing, sometimes I feel the same way, but we’re not controlled by our feelings, and we know that in the Mass we can experience God in a more powerful way than anywhere else. Be generous with God, because what He wants to give you is far more than He’s asking in return.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Good Friday Solemn Service of the Lord’s Passion – 19 April 2019
Who is Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ is our Savior. He came to save us from sin and death and He accomplished that salvation through His Cross. We just heard the account from the Gospel of John about how Jesus was arrested, condemned, and crucified. The innocent died for the sake of the guilty, and the just one for the unjust so that He might justify us.
The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus Christ, even in His humanity, was obedient to the will of God and willingly took up the Cross. Some people try to explain the Cross by saying that Jesus when Jesus took our sins on Himself God poured out all of His wrath on Jesus instead of on us. No, that’s not it at all. It wasn’t Christ’s suffering that God desired, but His obedience in love. The Cross isn’t a sign of God’s wrath, but of His unimaginable love for us. The obedience of Christ undid the disobedience of Adam. Whereas Adam refused to stand between the serpent, Satan, and his bride, Eve, Jesus, through the Cross, does stand between Satan and His bride, the Church. “Greater love than this has no man, that he lay down his life for his friends.” At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, who stand in for us, “I no longer call you servants, but my friends.”
The Prophet Isaiah said, “Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.” Jesus did much more than just take the punishment for our sins on Himself; through the Cross He wants to give us the ability to love as He loves, to follow His example and not Adam’s.
As Jesus Himself told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to myself.” Jesus is our Savior by drawing us out of sin and into the love of God. So, take up your Cross, and follow after Him. The only way to grow in the love of God, to learn to love as He loves, is to do it. We have to push ourselves to love more and better. We have to be willing to go into uncomfortable circumstances to help someone, to make ourselves vulnerable for others, to show our love for those who are the most difficult to love. Jesus didn’t say that we have to like anyone, but He did say that we have to love everyone, and that is to be dedicated to doing good for others. St. Therese of Lisieux spoke often about her Little Way, which was to be willing to do little things for God in love, and she wasn’t all talk either. After she died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 her autobiography was published, The Story of a Soul. In it she talks about one of the other nuns who always got on her nerves. She just didn’t get along with her. So, she made this nun her best friend, spending a lot of time with her, talking to her, doing their work together, and other things like that. Apparently, when she read about that, this other nun wasn’t offended but was deeply touched.
St. Therese shows us that you don’t have to be rich or powerful or famous, or even a priest or nun, to make a difference in someone’s life and in the world, you just have to love like God loves.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper – 18 April 2019
On Palm Sunday we asked the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?” Today, Jesus gives us one possible answer to that question, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus has come among us as one who serves, to be a model for us, that we might do for one another what He did for us.
We say that Jesus condescended to come down to us. That word, condescension, is one that normally has a negative connotation. If I say that someone is acting condescendingly towards me it means that they’re insulting me by treating me as if I’m inferior to them, and I need their help to do something that they find easy. It’s particularly easy for priests to fall into this sort of behavior, because we spend so much of our time teaching and preaching; we might start to think that we have all the answers. We have to remind ourselves, first, that we are all equal before God and rely on Him for everything that we have, and, second, that we all have a calling from God and something vital to contribute to the Body of Christ, the Church.
Jesus condescends to us in a deferent way, in the way that a parent or teacher condescends. The young child truly does rely completely on its parents. When a parents teach their children to walk, for example, they must get down to the child’s level, or condescend, which literally means “to go down.” I’ve seen this type of behavior, this truly humble and loving condescension, with some people when they interact with very young children. My mom, for example, is great with children. She’s far more patient than I am, she can explain things in ways that they understand, as many times as necessary, and she’s always able to tell what that picture is supposed to be. That is how Jesus is with us. Jesus approaches us with humility and love in order to lift us up.
Jesus becomes a model for us, to teach us by example, and example is the best teacher. Today Jesus washes His disciples’ feet to put into action the lesson that He had been trying to teach them, “If you wish to be greatest, you must become the servant of all.” Of course, this example is pointing forward to another, more powerful example, the Cross, of which Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter resists having His feet washed by Jesus, but he relents in the end when Jesus tells Him that he must be washed to have an inheritance with Jesus. He will resist again when he runs from the Cross. Christian tradition holds that St. Peter was in Rome, founding the Church there, when the persecutions broke out. They sought especially to arrest the leaders of the young Church, so the Christian community urged Peter to flee. On the road out of the city, St. Peter saw Jesus walking into the city, and said, “Domine, quo vadis?” Lord, where are you going. He replied, “To Rome, to be crucified again.” And Peter replied, “Then I shall go with you.” With that, Jesus ascended to heaven, and St. Peter understood that it was his own crucifixion that Jesus meant. Tradition also holds that St. Peter was crucified upside down, because he didn’t see Himself as worthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus.
In the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me.” We do this every time we celebrate the Mass and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The Mass is the only thing about which Jesus told His disciples, “Do this in memory of me.” We also “do this in memory of me” by doing what He did, by serving one another in love, by taking up our Crosses and following after Him, and by sacrificing for the good of others. As we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in this Mass, let’s ask the Lord to strengthen us to wash one another’s feet in love and to bear our own Crosses out of love for God.
Fr. Bryan Howard
Palm Sunday – 14 April 2019
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Some people will tell you that Jesus of Nazareth is a character that the Church made up to give itself legitimacy, but if that’s true then how did the Church get started in the first place? All of the historical evidence we have agrees that Jesus of Nazareth really existed. So, other people will tell you either that He was a wise teacher or a revolutionary, or even that He was a prophet, a man sent by God with a special message for humanity. The Church takes a much more radical position. Jesus Christ is the God-man, at once true God and true man in the person of Jesus without compromising what it means to be God or what it means to be man. St. Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century, who was a student of St. Polycarp who was himself a student of St. John the Apostle, wrote in his work, Against Heresies, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” Jesus, the author and Creator of mankind, reveals in Himself who man is, and by contemplating who Jesus is we can learn who God made us to be.
Jesus is the Son of God, co-equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, all powerful, all knowing, having all majesty and glory, and yet He came among us as one who serves others. As St. Paul says, “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave.” Jesus was also fully human, subject to temptation, having to study and learn things, sometimes full of emotion, as when He wept at the grave of Lazarus, His friend, even knowing that He was about to raise him from the dead, or when He was filled with righteous anger and drove the merchants and money changers out of the Temple.
I’ve told you before that the three keys to growth in holiness, to growing closer to God and being filled with the Spirit of God, are staying close to the Eucharist, meaning going to Mass and adoring Christ in the Eucharist, either reserved in the tabernacle or exposed in the monstrance, daily prayer, both talking to Jesus and, in silence, allowing Jesus time to talk to you, and regular and frequent Confession(the Church asks us to Confess our serious sins at least once a year, but you should try to go at least once a month, and many of the saints went to Confession once a week). Why those three things? When we stay close to the Eucharist we stay close to Jesus, we gaze upon Him, and we think about Him and about His life and His death and Resurrection. In prayer, we go deeper, we look at Jesus, and then we take a closer look at ourselves, and compare the two. In prayer we can ask ourselves, “How is God working in my life? How is God challenging me to change? In what ways do I fail to live up to the example that Jesus gave me?” Then, in Confession, we admit those failures to God, promise to do penance (that is, to try to make up for those sins), and make a commitment to do better next time, to use the grace of the Sacrament of Confession to grow in virtue and holiness. Don’t be discouraged if God keeps bringing the same things up over and over again. Just go into it with the right intention, to grow in the love of God and not to use the Confessional as an excuse to keep doing the same things, and let God slowly work on your soul and bring about a conversion of your way of life.
Spend this week in a sort of retreat, paying closer attention to how God is working in your life than normal. Come to as many of the special liturgies this week as you can. The liturgies of Holy Week are both beautiful and powerful, but we’ll only get out of them what we put into them. If “the glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God,” then ask God to help you to gaze on Jesus this week, not just with your eyes, but with your mind and with your soul, so that God can make you live to the full.
The Paschal Triduum refers to the most important celebration in the year for Christians, the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. The Paschal Triduum begins with the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and concludes on Easter Sunday. In American culture the most important day of the year is probably Christmas, or maybe the Super Bowl, but for Christians it’s even Christmas is only the second most important day, after the Paschal Triduum.
We consider the Paschal Triduum to be one, continuous celebration, even though it takes place over 3 days, because the three events have to be seen together to make sense. The Resurrection couldn’t happen without the Crucifixion, and the Crucifixion doesn’t make sense apart from the Last Supper. The Last Supper shows us that Jesus is laying down His own life, not being forced to do it, because in the Last Supper He’s already offered His Body and Blood. The Last Supper shows us that the Crucifixion isn’t merely a martyrdom and the execution of a good man but a sacrifice for the salvation of the world. In the Last Supper Jesus teaches us that we can enter into His Crucifixion through the Eucharist.
On Good Friday we pause and take the time to really reflect on the Cross and what it means for us. How often do we really take the time to think about what Jesus did for us, what we put Him through, and why He did it? Good Friday is a day to think about how awesome God’s love is and that we are called to rest in His love, and to return it with all of our minds, all of our souls, all of our hearts, and all of our strength.
On Holy Saturday we spend the day in the tomb with Jesus, or in the Upper Room with the disciples and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a day of quiet, of contemplation, and of sorrow. There’s not a lot going on on Holy Saturday, unlike Good Friday which has the Solemn Service, the Stations of the Cross, the 9 Churches Walk, and other traditions. Holy Saturday begins with Morning Prayer in the Church at 8:00 AM, I’ll be available for Confession from 3-4:00 PM, and then we’ll have the Easter Vigil at 8:00 PM.
Finally, after spending Thursday night with Jesus keeping watch during the agony in the Garden, and Friday night with Jesus in the tomb, on Saturday night/Sunday morning is the glory of the Resurrection, filled with awe, joy, and renewed faith.
When the statues are covered, you know you’re getting close to Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum of the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Thank you to Janet Nunez and Dcn. Craig Taffaro for getting them covered for us.
Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, and we hope to see everyone at Mass. Normal times: Saturday at 4 PM and Sunday at 9 and 11 AM. We’ll have the blessing of palm branches at all Masses.
If if you are any of your neighbors have palms, we could really use your help. All the palms we give out are donated by parishioners. You can leave them in front of the Parish Community Center any time this week. If possible, wash them first. Thanks in advance.
On this Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we veil the statues and images in the Church and either take down or veil the crucifixes. The crucifixes will be uncovered following the Solemn Service of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, and the rest of the statues will be uncovered before the Easter Vigil.
The tradition of veiling the statues during Lent is meant to be a visible symbol of the meaning of Lent. During Lent we are fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays, and doing various other penitential practices, like giving up sweets or soft drinks. In the same way, we also fast visually by covering the beautiful statues and images in Church. Our fasting is meant to increase our hunger for the Lord; every time you feel your hunger during a fast or have a craving for something you’ve given up you should remember that you’re fasting out of love for God so that your physical hunger can increase your longing for the Lord. When we see the statues veiled during Lent, it should remind us of how beautiful the Church will be on Easter Sunday when the statues are revealed, the Church is clothed in white and gold, and flowers are brought back into the Church. The glory of the church building on Easter Sunday is but a pale reflection of the glory of Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
We also veil the statues as a sign of our separation from God. During Lent we should reflect on our sins and how they’ve offended God, repent of them, and seek conversion to the Lord. We recognize that our sins separate us from God, and that we are reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The statues of saints in the Church represent the saints in heaven; so, when they are veiled it shows us that sin separates us from heaven. Then, when the statues are unveiled for the Easter Vigil we see that the gates of heaven are opened to us through the death and Resurrection of Jesus, who shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you come into Church and see the statues veiled, let that be a call to prayer, a call to repentance, and a call to hunger and thirst for the Lord.
The Power of Grace
What is grace? Grace is the “free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become His adopted children” (Catechism, Glossary). Grace is a free and undeserved gift that God gives to all of us and, in fact, to all people. God gives graces to everyone, Christians, non-Christians, atheists, even people who’ve never heard of Him and people who’ve explicitly rejected Him. Grace is like God knocking on the door, inviting us into a relationship with Him, inspiring and motivating us to do good, and calling us to repentance and conversion. However, we still have to respond to that grace, to answer the invitation.
One type of grace is called actual grace, which is when God disposes or moves us for doing or receiving something. For example, when I pass a homeless person on the street I may be moved to do something for them, when I see a beautiful image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and am moved to prayer, or when the voice of conscience convicts me of some sin and moves me to repentance; these are all actual graces and examples of God acting within our minds and souls. When we respond to an actual grace we open ourselves up to more grace, but when we deny that grace and turn away we cut off that line of grace, not because God doesn’t want to give them, but because we’ve wasted the opportunity to get them.
There are some graces that you will get no matter what, but there are other graces that you will only get if you pray for them and make yourself ready to receive them. This is why we must be persistent in prayer, praying many times for the same things. God already knows what we need, but we are often not yet ready to receive it. Through prayer we expand our hearts, grow in love for God, and increase our desire to receive, not merely what we want, but what God wants to give us. When you pray for grace be confident, knowing that God loves you, but humble, willing to receive whatever He wants to give and to follow it.
More than just moving us to good acts and helping keep us from sin, actual graces also prepare us to receive sanctifying grace, through which God shares His Divine life and friendship with us. Sanctifying grace allows us to participate in the very nature of God. Unlike actual grace, which is given for a specific purpose or moment, sanctifying grace tends to stay with us. It’s like peanut butter, it sticks to us and stays put, but we can get rid of it if we try. The effects of sanctifying grace are described well in this passage from St. Paul, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm. 8:15-17).
Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Lent – Year C – 24 March 2019
The second commandment of the 10 Commandments is that we are not to take the name of the Lord in vain, and the Jewish people have always taken that commandment very seriously, much more seriously than most Christians do, and I think we would do well to learn something from them here. For the ancient Jewish people names were very important. You name isn’t just what you are designated as, but it’s the description of who you are. So God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude,” and Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “who struggles with God.” Similarly, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter, meaning “rock.” Jesus means “to deliver,” but Jesus is also called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.” These names define who those people are, and in our first reading today God appears to Moses at the burning bush and tells Moses His name.
First, God calls Him “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In other words God is near to us. He is always seeking to enter into relationships with us, as He did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He wants to share His life with us, and His life is love; it is the love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in the unity of the Trinity from all eternity. God created us to share His life and love with us.
God also reveals Himself to Moses as Yahweh, which means, “I am that I am,” or “I am Who am.” God reveals to us that He isn’t just another thing in the universe, or even the highest and greatest thing in the universe; God is existence itself, the One Who Exists. We all exist because of Him, but He simply IS. We all need something to explain the fact the we exist, so we can say that our parents caused us to exist, but they need something to explain their existence, too, and so on and so on all the back to the beginning of time. Well, for anything to exist at all, there has to be something that doesn’t need anything else to explain it’s existence, but simply exists. God is the one who explains why anything exists at all rather than nothing, because He wanted to share His existence with us.
The New Testament explains to us that God has a new name now. St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “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.” We should have the same reverence for the name of God as the ancient Israelites and modern Jews do. Whenever we take the name of the Lord in vain, whether that is Yahweh, or Jesus Christ, or simply God, we are disrespecting who God is. Most other sins offend God because they harm His children, our brothers and sisters on earth, but taking His name in vain in disrespectful of God Himself.
How do we use God’s name in prayer? Do we call on His name to ask Him to be with us, in our heart and soul? Do we ask Him to give us strength and grace? Do we ask Him to help us to know and love Him better? We need to “take the Lord’s name” because we need God’s help in our lives.
How do we use God’s name in our speech? Do we use the name of the Lord to teach people about Him, to encourage them or console them, and to call people to prayer? How often do we, instead, use God’s name in a profane way, like when we’re upset about something and need to blow off some steam? How often do we use God’s name as a weapon to hurt someone else?
Think about Who God IS and what that means for you. Taking the name of the Lord in vain can very easily become a habit, but if we take the Lord’s name in prayer, then He can help us to break that habit and, by respecting and loving the name of God, come to have a deeper respect and love for God Himself.
(The text for the last 2 minutes of the audio isn’t here, as it’s the introduction to the First Scrutiny which took place at the 4:00 PM Mass on Saturday.)
In the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, through which adult converts are prepared to receive their sacraments and thus enter the Church, the last stage before the reception of the sacraments is the Period of Enlightenment and Purification. It begins with the Rite of Election on the first Sunday of Lent, where the catechumen (person preparing to receive the sacraments) is chosen, or elected, by the bishop to receive the sacraments.
This process includes the scrutinies which take place on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. Here are Lourdes, we’ll celebrate the First Scrutiny at on March 23 at the 4 PM Mass, the Second Scrutiny on March 31 at the 11 AM Mass, and the Third Scrutiny on April 7 at the 9 AM Mass.
The scrutinies are a series of blessings over the elect which are meant to deepen and focus their preparation to enter the Church. They are also minor exorcisms, meant to deliver them from the power of Satan, strengthen them in Christ. (As opposed to a major exorcism, which is used when someone is being possessed.) The RCIA rite book describes them in this way:
“The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.”
Some people will tell you that Satan is just a myth and that hell isn’t real, but the Bible takes hell and Satan very seriously. In His first letter St. Peter writes, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pt 5:8). Satan means “the accuser,” and refers to the devil as the one who accuses us before God. In his jealousy, Satan wants to deny us what he gave up in his rebellion against God. In his hatred, he wants to have us join him in His misery. The devil knows us better than we know ourselves, and so is able to attack us at our weakest and most vulnerable points, but he can’t force anyone to sin; he can only tempt us. We need God’s help to resist.
As the scrutinies are celebrated this year, we should all learn from them to examine our lives for anything that is not of God, to ask God to deliver us from the power of Satan, and to be strengthened in Christ through receiving the Sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Communion.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.