We’ve recently started offering Mass in Latin here at Our Lady of Lourdes for our monthly First Saturday Mass, which is at 8:00 AM. This is the normal, Novus Ordo, or New Rite, Mass from after Vatican II. It uses the same readings and follows the same calendar as the ordinary Mass the we celebrate; in fact, the readings and homily are also in English. If you want to experience Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as it was celebrated before Vatican II (and I think every Catholic should at least once), it’s celebrated every Sunday at St. Patrick’s Church in New Orleans at 9:15 on Sundays, 7:15 AM on weekdays, and 8 AM on Saturdays. The difference is that all of the prayers are in Latin, and you’ll have Latin and English translations of the prayers side by side to help you follow along. In some ways, it’s just like going to Mass in Spanish or Vietnamese, because you’ll still recognize everything, you just might not understand the language. Since people have asked, this Mass doesn’t count for your Sunday obligation. You can fulfill your Sunday obligation at any Mass on Sunday or after 4:00 PM on Saturday. So, why offer this to the parish?
I celebrated the Mass in Latin regularly at Visitation of Our Lady and Divine Mercy Catholic Churches, and I found out that some people were under the impression that the Church had done away with Latin in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. However, Vatican II actually said, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 2. But since the use of the mother tongue… frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down in subsequent chapters” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 36). So, they wanted to allow Mass in the languages of the people while still retaining some Latin. Imagine if every Catholic could still pray at least the Our Father in Latin, then you could pray with a Catholic from anywhere in the world, even if you don’t speak one another’s languages.
Second, in the Roman Churches the Mass has been celebrated in Latin since at least the 4th century. It’s true that there have been changes and developments to the Mass over the centuries, but they kept using Latin. This means that most of the saints celebrated or attended Mass in Latin. This is part of the life of the Church, part of our heritage, and part of history. If you feel like you’re stepping back in time, then that’s a good things. The Mass doesn’t belong to you or me, it’s an inheritance of the entire Church, and when we celebrate Mass we should see that this isn’t an ordinary, normal thing, but that we’re entering the Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin helps us to see that we don’t fully comprehend everything that’s going on, but that we have to really make an effort to enter into it more fully. This is true of every Mass, no matter what language it’s celebrated in, but we tend to see it more easily when we don’t understand every word that’s being said.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 19 January 2020
What is the goal of our faith? Someone might say that their goal is to get to heaven, and they would be right. One of the goals of the faith is to get to heaven, and sometimes that motivation and desire to get to heaven is what I need to avoid sin and do good works. The problem with that is that it might lead to doing the bear minimum. What is the least I need to do to get to heaven? When I was in a parish with a school I used to visit the classrooms and let the students ask any questions they had. For the middle school students I used to get a lot of questions about what is and isn’t a sin. They point was to figure out how far they could push before something became a sin, and we all think like that sometimes. We want a clear line. The faith is about building up our relationship with God. When I’m friends with someone should I ask, “What’s the least I can do and still remain their friend?” or “What more can I do to help my friend?”
Another way to answer that question is to say that the goal of our faith is to grow in holiness and to become a saint. That desire to be holy and to be a saint can lead us to strive to grow in virtue, faith, and love and to try to be the best person that I can be. However, if that desire becomes unbalanced it can lead to another distortion in our faith, where we focus on ourselves. How can I be holy? How can I grow in virtue? How can I be a better person? The focus point of our faith should be on God and not so much on ourselves. Yes, I should be trying to grow in virtue and holiness, but not for myself; it’s so I can better love God, my family, and my neighbors.
Another issue is that a lot of people think that they can’t be a saint. This is a very common belief among Christians and Catholics. We think that holiness is only for monks, nuns, priests, deacons, and consecrated people, people who’ve taken vows. We think that we’re not holy if we don’t get emotional or cry when we’re praying. To have an emotional sense of God’s presence in prayer or to be moved to tears during prayer are great gifts, but they are relatively rare and they are not necessary to be holy. They aren’t evidence that we aren’t praying right. St. Paul wrote to Corinthians in our second reading today, “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Who is it that have been sanctified in Jesus Christ and called to be holy? It’s not only those in Corinth, but “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” including all of us gathered in this Church today.
We have all been given the same Holy Spirit. We have the word of God in the Bible to tell us what’s God’s will is. We have the seven Sacraments and especially the Eucharist to strengthen us to do God’s will in our lives. We have the Christian community, the Church, to support one another in living the faith. Not all of us are called to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving our lives for God in martyrdom, but we are all called to live our lives for God.
The most common Christian prayer is the one that Jesus Christ taught us, the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. In the Our Father we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” That is, give me the grace that I’ll need today, for today’s burdens, to be good and holy today, to bear today’s cross. Today is what I really need to focus on. How can I do a little bit better today than yesterday? What is God asking me to do today? How can show my love for God today? When I took martial arts my teacher used to say that each punch should be better than the one before. Let’s ask God, every morning, to help us to be a little bit holier today, and to grow a little bit closer to God today.
The greatest gift we have in living the faith is the great gift of the Eucharist, our daily bread, which strengthens us in God’s grace. We need to put the Eucharist and to put Christ at the center of our lives. That why, as a parish, we’ve moved the Tabernacle into the center of the Sanctuary, so that Christ is at the center of our parish. You may have noticed that we’ve also turned the celebrant’s and deacon’s chairs so there facing the altar and tabernacle more, because I’m not the most important person here, Jesus is, and we turn towards Jesus in prayer together. As we receive the Eucharist, or, for those who can’t yet receive, make a spiritual communion by asking Jesus to be in our souls, let’s ask God to give us the grace we need to grow in holiness…today.
We refer to the teaching office of the Church, or the Magisterium, as the authority that Jesus Christ gave the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals. That is, the Church speaks in the name of Christ when the bishops, in union with the pope, teach about the faith or about morality. One of the ways that the popes have of using this teaching office is the Apostolic Exhortation. It ranks third in papal documents after the Papal Encyclical, letter addressed to the bishops on a particular Church teaching, and Apostolic Constitution, on Church governance. An Apostolic Exhortation is written to all the members of the Church and is meant to guide them in a particular area of the faith.
In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an exhortation on “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” called Familiaris Consortio. In his own words, Pope St. John Paul II wrote this exhortation because, “the Church wishes to speak and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives.” In part one, the Pope talked about the hopeful signs and challenges facing the family. Among the hopeful signs, he includes greater personal freedom, more attention to the quality of relationships, the promotion of the dignity of women, advances in education, etc. Among the challenges he mentions, among other things, the difficulty in transmitting fundamental values to younger generations, the growing number of divorces, and the scourge of abortion.
The second part is called, “The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family.” This is a very beautiful explanation on God’s plan for the family going all the way back to the account of the creation of the world in Genesis and the first marriage, of Adam and Eve, and tracing the Biblical teaching on marriage to the teaching of Jesus. The third part is on “The Role of the Christian Family,” and is significantly longer the part two. He divides it into four sections: forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church.
Although the entire document is more of a small book, the part on God’s plan for marriage is only a few pages long, and is well worth reading, even if you don’t read any of the rest of it. In fact, I always have the couples that I prepare for marriage read that section. Sometimes people need to read it several times to make sense of it, because Pope St. John Paul II packs a lot of meaning into those few pages, but it’s worth the effort. I’ll include a link to a free English translation of it when I post this to the Pastor’s Blog on our website, www.olol-church.com.
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Baptism of the Lord – 12 January 2020
The ancient Greeks had a mythical story about Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan, but feeling sorry for humanity, he stole fire from the god Hephaestus and gave it to us. The fire symbolized life, science and philosophy, and power. Zeus punished Prometheus for giving this gift to humanity by chaining him to a rock and having an Eagle attack him every day and letting him heal every night. He punished humanity by unleashing toil, illness, war, and death, forever separating humanity from the gods. The Greeks, like most pagan cultures, thought that there was competition between the gods and humanity, and they tried to placate the gods and win their favor by making offerings, sacrifices, and gifts to them.
The ancient Israelites, and Christians following them, see God in a different light. God created us from nothing and breathed life into us not because He needed anything from us, but because He wanted to share His own life with us. Then, He continued to poor out His gifts and graces on us, every day. He even gave us the law to show us how to live good lives. However, every time we sin, we reject God and His place in our lives. At the heart of every sin, from the smallest venial sin to the worst mortal sin, is a little voice inside us saying, “I know better than God. I can decide what’s right and wrong for myself.” Through sin we alienated ourselves from God, we rejected His love, grace, and friendship, and we had no way to win it back for ourselves.
If the Greeks believed that Zeus punished Prometheus for giving humanity fire, then Christians believe that God Himself, Jesus Christ the Son of God, came down to bring us the light of truth and to restore us to the friendship of God. Remember that Jesus said, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing,” and St. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
When Jesus began His public ministry He was already almost 30 years old. Notice what John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” He realized that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized because Jesus had never sinned. He had nothing to repent. He didn’t need to be restored to grace, because He is the source of all grace. Jesus told him, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, this had to happen; it was part of God’s plan. Then, after Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit of God descended on Him, and God the Father spoke, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” That didn’t happen for Jesus, that all happened for us, to show us what happens in baptism. The waters of baptism didn’t sanctify Jesus, Jesus sanctified the water, so that the water could then sanctify us in our baptisms.
When we are baptized, what happened visibly at Jesus’ baptism happens invisibly in our souls. The Holy Spirit floods into our souls, filling us with God’s grace and giving us the life of the Spirit of God. It forgives all of our sins and unites us to Jesus Christ. We become, like Jesus, children of God, sons and daughters of God with whom God is well pleased.
After His baptism, what did Jesus do? First, to prepare Himself, He spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Then, He began His public ministry, doing great miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He finished by showing us what the Christian life is all about, but offering His life for ours on the Cross as a total gift of love.
We, too, have been baptized. We’ve received the Spirit of God, the grace and life of the Holy Spirit. We’ve become children of God. But do we live like it? Do our words and actions reflect the love of God to the people around us? We get caught up in our own problems, we judge one another, we try to get back at one another, and we begin to hate one another, or brothers and sisters in Christ, because we follow a different religion, vote for a different party, or have a different color skin. The big thing these last few years has been tolerance. We should be tolerant of different ideas, different people, different lifestyles. On the contrary, Jesus didn’t tell us to tolerate one another. He didn’t give the commandment to be nice to one another. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and to love even our enemies and pray for them.
Let’s recommit ourselves to following Jesus Christ and to doing what He did. In your words and in your actions, proclaim the Kingdom of God. Share your love of God with others. Don’t hesitate to stand with Christ, even if that means that some people will reject you. Some people rejected Christ, and when we follow Him some people will reject us, too. Don’t fall into the temptation to right them off, to reject them back. Continue to pray for them and treat them with love and compassion.
Christianity is revolutionary because we see that we don’t have to be in competition with God, as if God is up there with a grading sheet for each one of us, just waiting for us to do something wrong so He can condemn us to hell. No, God is constantly giving us little graces, little reminders, little nudges to help us live life to the full so we won’t be weighed down with sin, bitterness, and hatred, but will be free to live in the light.
I think of two different experiences when I think of Christmas. One of them is how my family celebrated Christmas. I remember setting up the Christmas tree every year on my mom’s birthday, December 9, untangling the lights with Uncle Robert, and how every ornament was unique. I remember attending Nanny’s family Christmas party on Christmas Eve, playing with Big Mac boxes to see who could stack them the highest, and seeing Christmas carols. I remember waking up on Christmas morning to open presents, going to the noon Mass at St. Clement of Rome, and having Christmas dinner with Aunt Pat, Uncle Paul, and my cousins at my house because we had the biggest dining room.
On the other hand, I think of my Christmases since I’ve been a priest. I think of all the Christmas parties for the different Church ministries, the PSR Advent Program, and setting up decorations in the Church. Mainly, though, I focus on helping people prepare spiritually for Christmas. Christmas has become such a huge thing in American culture that it’s easy to overlook the religious significance of the day as the turning point of human history. There’s a reason why the calendar changes from B.C. to A.D., or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) to C.E. (Common Era) at the birth of Christ. Some scholars have switched from using B.C. and A.D. to B.C.E. and C.E. either to keep from offending non-Christians or to deny the importance of Christ, but we don’t number the year from the ascension of Augustus Caesar to Emperor of Rome, or from some major military battle or great invention, or from anyone else’s birth. When Jesus Christ was born, salvation came into the world and the Kingdom of God (not Caesar or Rome) was inaugurated. The promise that was given in the birth of Jesus Christ was fulfilled in His Resurrection. That’s why celebrating Mass on Christmas is one of the most meaningful moments in my priesthood. On the day that Jesus Christ came into the world in the flesh, I am privileged to make Jesus Christ present on the altar, body and blood, soul and divinity.
12 days after Christmas, on January 6, we celebrate the Epiphany (although the celebration is moved to the nearest Sunday, January 5 this year). The Epiphany is the celebration of the “Light of Christ” coming into the world and spreading to every land and people. May we never forget that Christ is our light, that we cannot truly see unless we have His light in our lives, and that He is calling on us to spread His light through acts of faith, hope, and love.
At Christmas time we focus on the birth of Christ, even as we look ahead to His Passion, crucifixion, and Resurrection. On the Sunday after Christmas we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and we are invited into the Holy Family by becoming, as it were, adoptive brothers and sisters of Jesus and, therefore, adoptive children of God the Father. Remember, though, what Jesus said to St. John and the Blessed Mother as He hung upon the Cross, “When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own.” On the surface, it seems that Jesus is asking St. John to look after His mother after He dies, but there is a deeper, spiritual meaning here. We are all the “disciple whom he loved,” and so Jesus, on the Cross, gives all of His to His mother and gives His mother to all of us, that she might be our mother, too. Therefore, we call Mary both the Mother of God and the Mother of all the Faithful.
On December 10, 1925, Sr. Lucia, who had received the visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, received another vision of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. They asked her to spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through what we now call the Five First Saturdays Devotion. The Blessed Virgin said, “See, my daughter, My Heart surrounded with thorns with which ingrates pierce me at every moment with blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, make sure to console me and announce that all those who for five months, on the first Saturdays, go to confession, receive Communion, say five decades of the Rosary and keep me company for 15 minutes while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to Me, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for the salvation of souls.”
The purpose of the five Saturdays is to make reparation for the five kinds of offenses against the Blessed Virgin Mary: 1) blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception, 2) blasphemies against her virginity, 3) blasphemies against her divine maternity and refusing to accept her as the Mother of all men, 4) instilling indifference, scorn, and even hatred towards the Immaculate Mother in the hearts of children, and 5) direct insults against her holy images. Just as God chose to have His Son, our Lord, come into the world through the Blessed Virgin Mary and through her assenting to His plan for salvation, so the Lord God desires to bring souls to Himself through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe that it is only through her that fallen away Catholics, protestants, and Muslims will come to a catholic faith in her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Five First Saturdays Devotion is a way that each one of us can help bring down God’s mercy and grace on the world.
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2019
About 2,021 years ago our Lord Jesus Christ was born. God became man when Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, and on December 25 we celebrate His birth. The Bible doesn’t actually tell us the date of His birth, and modern experts disagree. Some think He was probably born around October and others think it was probably in the Spring. However, the earliest Christians, the ones close to when Jesus actually lived, celebrated Christmas either on January 6, in the Greek dominated Churches, or on December 25, in the Roman dominated Churches, but why pick one day when we can celebrate for the entire 12 days in between; hence the “12 Days of Christmas.”
While the rest of the country is starting their after Christmas sales and radio stations are going back to the normal programming, Catholics are just starting to celebrate Christmas. I don’t know about you, but by the time we get to Christmas I’m about done. So, why don’t we take these 12 days to shift our focus away from presents and parties towards the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings to us. When the angels appeared to the shepherds they said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
When we hear that quote we tend to think of Christmas pageants and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, but this was a world shaking event. This was revolutionary; a challenge to the powers that be. Anyone could have told you that the King of the World lives in Rome and his name is Augustus Caesar. Caesar is the one who was called “lord,” but now that title is being applied to Jesus Christ. When Caesar won a victory in battle they would send out messengers to all of the major cities with the good news, or evangelion, of the victory, and now the angel in saying that the true evangelion is the good news of the birth of Jesus. Caesar could call on the Roman Legions which, at their height numbered in the hundreds of thousands of highly trained professional soldiers, but Jesus has a “heavenly host” or heavenly army of angels who come not to destroy and kill but to sing praises, saying “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
If you think this is just pious exaggeration, remember what Jesus said to St. Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. When they came to arrest him, St. Peter drew his sword and cut off one of their ears, and Jesus told him, “Put you sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. DO you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” Then, when Pontius Pilate wanted to release Jesus, the Jewish officials said, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” That’s why Pilate handed Jesus over to them, and why they put a sign on His Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Jesus was born to institute a new kind of kingdom. The Kingdom of God doesn’t grow through armies or espionage or economic warfare. It grows through faith and love. There were times when Christian Europe tried to spread the faith with the sword, and it inevitably failed. The early Christians said that the seed of the faith is watered by the blood of martyrs, so we revere saints like the Roman martyrs who died in the Colosseum, the Japanese martyrs, the Korean martyrs, and the North American martyrs. We also revere saints who dedicate their lives to the service of the most needy, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta or St. Damien of Molokai, who was priest to the leper colony at Molokai and eventually contracted leprosy himself. We also revere those saints who dedicate themselves to their families, like Sts. Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.
To be great in the kingdom of God it is not necessary to be born into a noble family, rich, famous, or successful. It takes much more than that. We must recognize the great gift of salvation that our Lord came to give us, the great love that He showed us in the Cross, and strive to live it out every day of our lives. The Lord is still with us in the Eucharist, in our families, in our whatever place where people gather in God’s name, in the poor, and in one another. One of my teachers in seminary, Fr. Michael Chapagne, used to say that prayer is simply to look at Jesus, to look at myself, and then to make an adjustment. This Christmas season, let’s try to reflect on the birth of Jesus and His life, how He challenges us to put love of God and neighbor first in our lives, and try to live like Christ a little bit more each day by showing one another a little bit more kindness, patience, generosity, forgiveness, and compassion.
Fr. Bryan Howard
4th Sunday of Advent – Year A – 22 December 2019
In 2005 researchers from the University of North Carolina published the results of 3,000 interviews with teenagers and young adults. They found that most of them believed that God exists and that He created the universe and ordered it and that He created human life and watches over us. They believe that God wants people to be nice to each other, to treat one another fairly, and to be tolerant, and that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself. However, they also believe that God doesn’t really get involved in our lives except when He’s needed to fix something. I’m not here to belittle anyone who thinks that way; some of the members of my own immediate family fall into that category. I do, however, want people to understand that God is far more than just the creator, that morality is far more than just being nice to people, and that God isn’t content to just sit back and watch until we need Him. All of these points can be answered in just one word: Love. God is love, and He created the universe and us in order to share His love with us. God wants us to love one another as He loves us, and, because He loves us, He wants to be with us.
Our first readings today, from the prophet Isaiah, prophecies that the Messiah would have the name Emmanuel. How can Jesus, then, be the Messiah. He doesn’t seem to fit that prophecy. Our Gospel, however, points out that the word, “Emmanuel,” means “God is with us.” Jesus fulfills this prophecy not by being named Emmanuel but by actually being God with us. In the person of Jesus God shows His love for us by uniting a human nature, the man Jesus, to Himself in one person. The person Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, not a mix of both like some Greek demi-god, or a human being possessed by God, but a true unity.
However, God isn’t content to unite just one human being to Himself. In Jesus Christ we can all be united to God. On the Cross, Jesus Christ showed us the depths of God’s love for us by suffering and dying for us. In the Resurrection He offered all of us new life. In the person of Jesus, God showed His love to the world, but only the people living in that time in the area of Palestine would have even had the opportunity to see Him, let alone believe in Him and follow Him. Therefore, Jesus gave His Church the gift of the Eucharist. Just as Jesus Christ was God incarnate, which literally means “in the flesh,” so the Eucharist is God incarnate, the real presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the Eucharist humanity and divinity, man and God, meet through the flesh of Jesus. We play this out in every Mass. The sanctuary represents heaven, the nave, where the people sit, represents earth. After the Eucharistic Prayer we meet at the middle point to receive the Holy Communion. At that point heaven comes down to earth and earth rises up to meet her Christ. The Eucharist contains all the love of God, and is enough to make someone a saint from receiving it just once, if they place all their faith in God.
Once we have received the grace, friendship, and love that God is offering us in the Eucharist we must allow God to start to transform us form the inside out. God isn’t content with us being nice to people; He wants to make us able to love as He loves and truly take up our crosses every day and follow after Christ. Sometimes that means swallowing my pride and admitting that I’ve messed up, apologizing, and doing my best to make things right. It might mean coming to see Jesus in someone that’s particularly hard for us to get along with. Maybe it means giving up something that I love because I’ve realized that it’s hurting someone else. It could mean paying attention to someone else when all I want to do is sit back and recuperate after a long day, or recognizing that someone needs some space even though I really want to talk to them. In so many little ways, from taking out the trash without being asked to the greatest sacrifices of the martyrs, we love like Christ, by doing what He did, being with others and sacrificing for their good.
In every family the home needs to become a school of love where we can experience the unconditional love of others and learn to give that love ourselves. Sometimes our family members are the hardest people to get along with, but we also have the greatest responsibility to them. May we all look to Christ to see an example of love, receive the strength we need in the Eucharist, and then, in our turn, become examples of love to the people around us, starting with our families but not stopping there.
During this Advent we’ve focused our homilies on the Sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony, asking the Lord to give us the grace to be renewed in the Faith, in our Church family, and in our families at home, that we might center our Church life around the Eucharist and our families around God. The mission of the Catholic Church is to spread the Gospel to all peoples and to give an example of God’s love, especially through service to those who are most in need. I believe that the most important job of the Catholic parish in fulfilling this mission is to give you and your families the support you need to live out the faith to the full through the Mass, the other Sacraments, prayer, learning the faith, and growing in virtue and holiness. What better time of the year to refocus ourselves on Jesus Christ than when we’re preparing to celebrate His birth?
Jesus said to His disciples, “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me” (Mt. 18:3-5). We can take that to mean many things; that we should be innocent, free from malice, or honest, or not wanting to have honor and distinctions. All of these are certainly true and very good, but what does it truly mean to be humble like a child is humble? It doesn’t mean naïve, as the Lord certainly wants His disciples to understand the ways of the world, if only so they can avoid them.
What distinguishes childhood from adolescence from adulthood is how much we depend on our parents and other people to take care of us. Adults are those who are now able to take care of themselves, to speak for themselves legally, and, eventually, to take care of their own families. Teenagers and pre-teens are learning how to take care of themselves, how to discipline themselves, and how to provide for themselves, but they aren’t all the way there yet. Children, especially babies, are totally dependent on their parents. They depend on them for clothes, shelter, food, transportation, and, especially, love.
We must become like little children in regards to God. We have to realize that we are totally dependent on God for our lives, for our faith, and for everything good, because God is the source of everything that is good. Take the example of the saints. Saints aren’t people who never sinned or even, necessarily, who did great things or worked great miracles. The saints are people who realized their littleness next to God and depended on Him for everything. This didn’t make them wallflowers who were afraid to try anything; it made them daring and bold, because they knew that God was at their side. Consider St. Joseph Cho Yun-ho, a son of a Korean farmer. His family was Christian and he became a catechist, helping to spread the faith to other Koreans. He was arrested with his father and other Christians, refused to deny Christ, and was martyred by the Korean government on December 23, 1866. He was only 18 years old. He and the other Korean martyrs helped to sow the seeds of the faith in that country. May we humble ourselves before God, become like little children, and help sow the seeds of the faith in our country and our families.
Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Advent – Year A – 15 December 2019
St. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, is the one who first noticed the Jesus is the Messiah. He had the mission to prepare the people for the Messiah and to point Him out when He came, and he accomplished his mission. However, by this point St. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by King Herod for questioning the legality and morality of his marriage. So, St. John is at a low point in his life and he’s beginning to doubt himself. Is Jesus really the Messiah? Did I get it right? Is the Kingdom of God coming? He sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He’s really the Messiah, the Christ? Jesus tells them to look at what He’s doing: giving sight to the blind, healing the crippled, cleansing lepers, making the deaf hear, raising the dead, and proclaiming the good news to the poor. He’s doing all of the things that the Messiah was prophesied to do, and He’s letting His actions speak for Him.
Actions always speak louder than words. It’s one thing to say that you love someone, and it’s another to put their needs ahead of your own, or valuing bravery verses risking your life for a worthy cause, or saying that generosity is important verses making a real sacrifice to help the needy. The prophets of the Old Testament understand that merely proclaiming the Word of God wasn’t enough, they lived out their prophesies. That’s what St. John the Baptist was doing. He lived in the desert, wore camel hair clothes, and lived on locusts and honey. This was a dramatic way of asking people if God was more important to them than comfort, honor, wealth, and luxury. Are we ever tempted to put aside our honesty to get ahead at work, or will we sacrifice worldly success to build up treasure in heaven? Are we willing to put aside our faith because we think people will think we’re strange or crazy? Are we willing to put aside our morality so we can hang out with certain people, the cool crowd? Now, let me be clear, money, honor, comfort, and success are all good things. Accomplishing things in life is good. Providing a good life for your family is good. But they’re only good in the context of a good, moral life. It’s the single minded pursuit of them and willingness to sacrifice our principles for them that is immoral. By giving them up entirely, St. John the Baptist was saying, in a dramatic way, that God must be first in our lives and that we should be willing to give everything else for Him.
We don’t usually think of it like that, but marriage is another way of living out a prophetic life. Catholics consider marriage to be a sacrament. Sacraments are visible signs of invisible graces. For example, the water of baptism symbolizes the effect that baptism has on the soul of giving spiritual life and spiritual cleansing. So in marriage the love of husband and wife for one another and for their children represent the love that God has for us. It’s hard for us to imagine the kind of love that God has for us because we don’t actually have any experience with it. The Bible compares it to the love of a spouse or a parent because that is the closest thing we have to it in this life, and yet, we’re only human, so we make mistakes and fail to show our love for one another. We show love or feel love, but God is love.
St. Augustine wrote about the three goods of marriage, and these are what the bride and groom promise to one another in the marriage vows: fidelity, indissolubility, and fruitfulness. The bride and groom promise to be faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, and for richer or poorer. It’s easy to be faithful in good times and health, and for better and richer. What they’re really promising is fidelity in bad times, in sickness, for worse, and for poorer. God’s faithfulness is one of the primary ways that God is described in the Old Testament. He is faithful to Israel even when they sin against Him by worshiping false gods, breaking His laws, and taking advantage of the most helpless in society. When they forsake Him He allows them to go, even when it results in destruction, but He always forgives them and brings them back. He keeps sending them prophets to call them to repentance, and He eventually sends even His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die for them and for us.
The bride and groom promise to be faithful “until death do us part,” or “all the days of my life.” That’s a poetic way of saying that they are promising to love each other without limit. They give themselves to one another in every aspect of life and for their entire life. That’s what the Eucharist is for us. In Jesus Christ, God has given Himself to us. He even suffered and died for us, and He continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity. Husband and wife promise that their love for one another doesn’t depend on they’re emotions, which can change, but that they will continue to place one another’s needs ahead of their own. It’s not just hard, it’s humanly impossible, so we go before God and ask for His help.
Finally, marriage is fruitful. Love always wants to spread, to grow, and to give life. After all, even though God has everything that He needs in the Trinity, He created the universe and gave us life in order to share His life and His love with us. The most obvious way this is shown in marriage is having children, who are a living expression of their love for one another, but it’s also shown in those who adopt children or reach out in love to those around them in so many different ways. The very witness of their love and care for one another is one of the greatest gifts they can give.
I’ve been focusing on marriage because it’s so important and families are under so much stress, but we are all, as Christians, called to be witnesses of love to one another, to live in a prophetic way, and to bring God into people’s lives. We’re each called to do that in our own way, but in this Mass let’s ask God to give us grace and strength through the Eucharist, the great sign of His love for us, so we can go out and be better witnesses to that love in how we treat one another.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.