Fr. Bryan Howard
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 27 October 2019
If you read the Bible cover to cover you can’t help but see that the Bible is the story of marriage and family. The Bible begins with a marriage in the 2nd chapter of Genesis and ends with a marriage in the second to last chapter of Revelation. The Old Testament begins with the story of the family of Adam and Eve, continues with the family of Noah, and then focuses on the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The New Testament begins in the Gospel of Matthew with the genealogy of Jesus, which connects him to the family of Abraham. The genealogy in the Gospel of Luke takes it all the way back to Adam. We sometimes think of salvation in individual terms, but that’s a modern idea that is foreign to the Bible. You may be judged based on your own actions, but you are only saved as a member of the family of God, and the family of God on earth is the Church.
In the Gospel Jesus compares two people who go into the Temple to pray. About the first person he says, “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.'” The Pharisee thinks of his relationship with God as a contract. He thinks that he can justify himself, or earn salvation, by doing good works. But, Jesus said that he spoke this prayer “to himself;” he’s not really even praying to God. He’s focused on himself, on what he can do, and on how good he is. However, you can’t buy salvation or earn God’s love. God already loves you more than you even love yourself, and He wants what’s good for you more than you want it for yourself. God wants to have a real and personal relationship with us.
About the other person, Jesus says, “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'” The tax collector knows that he’s not worthy because he know that he’s a sinner. Sometimes we worry about the same thing; we worry that we’re not worthy of God’s love and that he won’t forgive our sins because they’re too big. It’s not about worthiness! Does a mother wonder whether her children are worthy of her love? No, she loves them because they’re her children. It causes parent’s pain when their children do wrong because they know it will bring them suffering and misery in their lives. Parents punish their children because they love them, not because they’ve stopped loving them. In the same way, God allows us to suffer the consequences of our sins in order to bring us to repentance and conversion.
Finally, Jesus says, “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” If we approach God already assured of our own righteousness, then we won’t recognize that we need His grace in order to be and live as children of God. A mortal sin, or deadly sin, is something that is completely irreconcilable with the love of God. Mortal sin kills our relationship with God. So, we can cast ourselves out of the family of God by committing a mortal sin, but we can’t earn our way in through good works. God is already offering it to us as a free gift, because He already loves us. It’s like our human families. If you suggest that you’ve bought your wife’s love, then you might end up with a hand shape mark on your face, but you can certainly damage or destroy that relationship by betraying her love.
The first thing we can do to strengthen our relationship with God is to pray every day. Set aside some time every day as God’s time, and try to make it the same time every day, so that it becomes a habit. Prayer is having a conversation with God. If you go for days at a time without talking to your husband or wife you’re not going to have a very good relationship. The key to any relationship is honest and sincere communication, and it’s the same with God. Tell God what’s going on in your life, what you’re thinking about, what’s good and what’s bad, and, even more importantly, listen to what God has to say to you. Listen by reading the Bible, by meditating no the truths of the faith, and by simply sitting quietly in the presence of God.
The next thing to do is to go to confession. We sometimes think that we have to get our lives in order before we can go to God, but it’s actually just the opposite. We need God’s grace to give us the strength to overcome our sins and get our lives in order, and confession is the first step in that process. In confession God forgives our sins and strengthens us against them. Many people wonder why they should go to a priest when they can confess directly to God. There are at least three reasons. First, Jesus gave the apostles the power to forgive sins in His name when He appeared to them in the upper room, and they passed on that power to the bishops and priests who succeeded them. So, when the priest absolves our sins we can be sure that they are forgiven.
Second, sin doesn’t just offend God, it harms the entire Church because we are all one family in God. We need to be reconciled with the Church, too. Finally, confessing our sins brings them into the light and breaks the power that they have over us.
Finally, go to Mass. Here in south Louisiana we understand the importance of the family dinner, and especially of the Sunday dinner. Dinner with my family is one of the memories that I treasure about my childhood. We would all sit down together, turn off the TVs, and focus on one another (there were no cell phones then). The Mass is our Christian family dinner. It’s the one time when we all, throughout the entire world, can gather in our own Churches, hear the same readings and prayers, and remind ourselves that we aren’t alone. We are all here for one another, and God is here for all of us. To deliberately miss Sunday Mass, without a good reason, is a mortal sin. We have to go to Mass on Sundays because Sunday is the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead to new life and in the Mass we receive the very life of Jesus in the Eucharist. May our celebration of the Mass today remind all of us that we are beloved children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, and one family in the Church.
I was mistaken in saying that Pope Francis added a new solemnity to the calendar; he’s instead dedicated the day to the Word of God without changing the prayers or readings.
Fr. Bryan Howard
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 20 October 2019
Pope Francis recently added a new feast day to the calendar. On the third week of ordinary time, which occurs in late January, we’ll celebrate the Solemnity of the Word of God. The purpose of this feast is to focus our attention on the honor that is due to the Revelation of God contained in the Bible, and in particular to see the relationship between the Word of God in the Scriptures and the Eucharist. The purpose of the Bible is to tell us what we need to know to be saved, as today’s second reading says. The Bible contains many different types of writing, including history, philosophy, poetry, parables, and letters, but the purpose of all of them is the same. God gave us the Bible to help us to learn more about Him and to grow in holiness, so we can get to heaven.
So, when we read a difficult part of the Bible, like today’s first reading, we have to keep that in mind. After the Exodus, as the chosen people were still wandering about in the desert, another tribe, the Amalekites, came and waged war on the Israelites. They probably wanted to steal their flocks, kill the men, and sell the women into slavery, so Joshua lead the Israelites into battle. When we read about Moses praying to God for help and God helping them to kill the Amalekites, it’s not the kind of thing most people expect to find in the Bible. Isn’t this glorifying violence? Why not just drive them off?
In the Old Testament, the Amalekites, the Canaanites, and other enemies of Israel represent sin and sinfulness. The worship of their gods often included things like fertility rituals and human sacrifice. The Bible wants to show us that sin is completely against God’s holiness. We should treat our sin like we would treat an enemy who’s trying to kill us. We don’t tolerate it’s presence; we destroy it. That’s not what we normally do though. We become attached to our sins. Every time you say yes to temptation, whatever that temptation is, it becomes a little bit easier to fall into it the next time. For example, I have a weakness for ice cream. Some people can keep ice cream in their house and not eat it; I’m not one of those people. If I buy ice cream with the intention to just have a bowl on Sundays after dinner, it probably won’t survive the first week. In order to beat that temptation I have to not buy the ice cream in the first place. We do the same things with our sins, whether it’s gluttony, lust, unforgiveness, greed, jealousy, or any other sin. We let them have a foothold in our hearts and in our lives instead of being utterly ruthless with them, because we want to have it our way. The Bible teaches us to show mercy to people, but to close our hearts to sin and everything that leads to sin.
During the battle against the Amalekites, Moses goes up a nearby mountain to pay. As long as he has his hands raised in prayer, the Israelites win the battle, but whenever he drops his hands, they begin to lose. Remember, if it’s a spiritual battle, then we need to use spiritual weapons. Our weapons in this battle aren’t swords and guns, but Bibles and rosaries. Keep these close and use them often. A soldier on guard must have his rifle at the ready, and practice with it often. We must always be on guard against sin, so let us practice prayer. The Bible is our map or instruction manual for the spiritual life, it can teach us how to defeat sin in our lives and grow in virtue. The Rosary is our sword and shield. The prayers themselves are based on the Bible and biblical teaching, but it’s really the mysteries of the Rosary that make it such an effective prayer. The mysteries, Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious, go through the life of Christ and the truths of the faith. When you pray the Rosary, try to meditate on those mysteries while you pray the prayer. The daily Rosary, prayed while meditating on the birth, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, is one of the most powerful Catholic prayers.
The most powerful prayer, though, is the Mass itself. Holiness is nothing else than closeness to God, or becoming like God in our own lives and trying to imitate His holiness. In the Mass we draw closer to God than at any other time in our lives, and in the Eucharist Jesus Christ, God Himself, is truly present. The Eucharist is the spiritual food that we need to stay in the fight, or, as St. Paul puts it, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:24-25). In this contest, we aren’t competing against other people; we’re competing against the devil who wants to make a wreck of our lives and bring us down to His level. So, let us run so as to win the prize.
Fr. Bryan Howard
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 6 October 2019
We sometimes think of religion like this: if I believe the right things, and say the right things, and do the right things, then I’ll go to heaven, but if I don’t believe, say, and do the right things then I’ll either go to purgatory or hell, depending on how bad it was. It’s like a test at school; just make sure you get at least a D- and you’ll be fine. If I help 60 old ladies cross the street, then I’ll be fine, but if I only help 59, then it’s into the flames. If that’s what people think religion is it’s no wonder so many people are giving up on it. Religion is about relationships. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. Sin isn’t broken laws, it’s broken relationships, because sin is telling God through our actions, “I don’t love you and I don’t trust you.” Through the Sacraments, especially the Mass and Confession, through prayer, and through the Word of God in the Scriptures we build up a relationship of trust in God, which is what we call faith. Faith isn’t just belief in certain things, it’s trust in the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the first reading we see that even holy people, God’s servants, can have their faith tested. The prophet Habakkuk sees that the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous are persecuted, taken advantage of, and killed. He sees the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires invading their neighboring countries, taking whole peoples off into slavery, doing terrible things to the survivors, and, eventually, coming to attack God people, the Israelites. He wonders why God doesn’t do something to stop it. We see the same things happening today. The powerful grow more powerful, often at the expense of ordinary people, while the poor and lowly are cast aside and trampled on. We wonder why God would allow something like this. God tells Habakkuk, and us, to be patient and trust that He knows what He’s doing, “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live,” or as Jesus tells the disciples, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In other words don’t fall into the trap of imitating the methods of those who increase in power and wealth through sin, but keep your integrity, no matter the cost, as you set your sights on a something far better.
We go on to the psalm, which tells us about those who lose their faith in the midst of trials and hardships, “Harden not your hearts as a Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert.” When God lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the desert, the people grumbled and complained against God and Moses that they were hungry and thirsty, and that they should go back to Egypt where they always had enough food and drink, even if they were slaves. The psalm encourages us not to be ungrateful, but to recognize the grace of God as the gift that it is, “Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.”
St. Paul then takes over in the second reading. St. Paul was no stranger to hardship, as he’d been imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, starved, and ultimately beheaded for the sake of the Gospel. His advice to us, “I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” Saturday was the memorial of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a German priest who came to the US to minister to German Catholic immigrants in the mid 1800s. He eventually found his way to New Orleans, where he became pastor of the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, which today is the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1867. He ministered to the sick in the city, comforting them, praying with them, and caring for them, until he himself came down with yellow fever and died from it.
“But,” you may say, “my faith isn’t that strong. I’m no saint. I can’t do those sorts of things.” And Jesus says to you, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” God can do great things even with those whose faith is small, if we place our trust in Him and take that leap of faith. We don’t need to do great things in the eyes of the world; that’s too much for us. Just try to do everything that you can with great love, and let God take care of the rest.
The rest of the reading goes on to ask what master would serve his servant, but, Jesus is the one who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is the master who has done for us, what He asks us to do for one another, and He can give us the strength to do it. How, by offering everything that we do to God, knowing that the one Who can take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 5000 people can also take my small offerings, my little faith, my weak love, and multiply them 30, 50, or 100 times.
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos wrote something similar in one of his letters, “Time, in which we have found nothing to offer up to God, is lost for eternity. If it is only the duties of our vocation that we fulfill with dedication to the will of God; if it is the sweat of our faces that, in resignation, we wipe from our brow without murmuring; if it is suffering, temptations, difficulties with our fellowmen—everything we can present to God as an offering and can, though them, become like Jesus his Son. Where the sacrifice is great and manifold, there, in the same proportion, is the hope of glory more deeply and more securely grounded in the heart of him who makes it.”
Fr. Bryan Howard
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 22 September 2019
Have you ever heard the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?” A few days ago I was watching a history show about Victorian London. In the 1880s and 1890s the population of London skyrocketed; it grew so fast that they had trouble getting in enough food to feed everyone, and many of the merchants saw an opportunity in that. For many working men bread was the main part of their diet, and they would eat up to two pounds of bread per day. However, most of the bread they were getting was only about 2/3 flour. Either the farmer, or the flour seller, or the baker, or sometimes all three, would add other white powders to the flour to make it go further, like chalk or plaster. This lead to health problems which could lead to death. In our first reading the prophet Amos is talking about different ways the merchants are cheating people, especially the poor. He wrote, “We will diminish the Ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!” But I’m sure that today stores would never do things like raise prices right before a sale or design products to break after a certain amount of time, or charge higher prices when they know people have no choice but to pay it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us to a new way of thinking and acting, a new way of treating our neighbor. Instead of using people to gain wealth, we should use wealth to gain people. He says, “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” In the parable the steward is going to be fired for wasting his Lord’s property. Knowing that he doesn’t have the skills to do any other sort of work, and not wanting to do manual labor, he basically commits fraud. He tells his master’s debtors to write out new IOUs and destroys the old records of their debts. The master grudgingly commends him for being clever and making sure that all of those people are now in his debt. So, what do you want out of life? Is your goal to get to heaven? Then use everything at your disposal to achieve that goal.
Jesus also says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” Compared to heaven, money and wealth are small matters, but are we trustworthy in the way that we deal with them? As Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (which is the love of money). Are you a trustworthy steward of the gifts that God has given you? God has given you these things for the good of others.
In the old mafia movies, right before killing someone the boss always says, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” Then they would show him in Church, like nothing had happened. They thought they could separate their “business” lives and their faith in God, but you can’t. Doing that is putting money ahead of God, and ahead of other people. It’s basically just an excuse for selfishness and greed.
So, how can we learn to be trustworthy in small matter? How can we build up our treasures in heaven? By fulfilling our responsibilities faithfully. First, we have a responsibility to worship God, recognizing that our lives and everything good in them is from Him. In the first reading the first thing they complain about is that they’re not allowed to sell on the sabbath, because the second commandment is to keep holy the sabbath, which includes going to Church and abstaining from servile labor. What is servile labor? Well, if gardening is your job, then it’s servile labor, but if gardening is your hobby, then it’s not. 50 or 60 years ago stores didn’t open on Sundays, but today that’s just not the way it is anymore. If you have to work on Sundays, take some other day of the week to dedicate to what is truly important, building up your relationships with God and with your family. Loving God doesn’t take away from our ability to love other people, as if it’s some sort of competition. When we allow God to take His proper place in our lives we find that we love our families and the people around us more and better. In fact, that’s the test of true religion. If it doesn’t help you to grow in love, then you’re not doing it right.
May God help all of us to faithfully fulfill our responsibilities to Him and to our families, jobs, and communities, that, proven trustworthy on the day of our judgement, we may be welcomed into heaven by God and all the angels and saints.
I deviated quite a bit from my text this weekend, and I think the recorded version was better.
Fr. Bryan Howard
23rdSunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – 8 September 2019
What makes you happy? The way that we answer that question has a huge impact on the choices that we make in our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that everyone chooses what they think will make them happy, what they think is good, although they sometimes overlook a greater evil in their choices. The addict chooses to do drugs because they think it will make them happy; they choose the good of the pleasure they receive from the drug while overlooking the greater evil of the pain it causes them and others. If we can figure out what really makes us happy, what can bring lasting happiness, then we can train ourselves to choose the rights things and avoid the wrong things, i.e. to choose good and to avoid evil. We must see that happiness is more than merely physical pleasure but is, as the Bible puts it, blessedness, or closeness to God.
So, what makes you happy? The contentment that we get from good food and drink fades after the meal. The joy we get from being well thought of and honored by others sours with time. Power over others is temporary, and those who hold on to power constantly fear losing it. Even money is simply a means to acquiring other things, and those things eventually turn boring. All of those things can only bring temporary happiness in our lives and ultimately leave us wanting something more. Only God can give us lasting and eternal happiness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sees the great crowds that are travelling with Him and turns to them, saying, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”If we think of life as the pursuit of pleasure then these words of Jesus don’t make any sense. We may think of the Cross as a Christian symbol representing God’s love for us, but for the Jews of Jesus’ day, the cross was the ultimate symbol of Roman power and a cruel and painful form of execution. Criminals and rebels were forced to carry their own crosses to the place of their execution. If we think of life as the pursuit of personal happiness, or the pursuit of pleasure, then these words of Jesus don’t make any sense. Jesus is challenging us to see that we can only be truly happy by putting God first in our lives, ahead of our family, ahead of our own lives, and even ahead of our own desire for happiness.
Why would Jesus say this in such a blunt way? Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus is traveling with a great crowd following Him, but at the foot of the Cross there will only be a handful of people, Mary, His mother, St. John, and a few others. I think Jesus knew that many of those people were only following Him because of the miracles that He performed, and He wanted them to understand the cost of being His disciple. We must give ourselves totally to Jesus. St. Paul calls Himself a slave of Christ Jesus in His letter to the Romans, even as He tells the Corinthians, “For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ”(1 Cor 7:22). In today’s second reading one of the Christian communities sent a slave, Onesimus, to tend to St. Paul while he’s in prison, and St. Paul is sending Onesimus back having baptized Him and is asking them to free him, “That you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother.”So which is it, or we slaves of Christ or are we free? Both, when we make ourselves slaves of Christ, giving ourselves completely to God, then Christ makes us free by giving us the Holy Spirit and making us children of God.
The paradox of the Gospel is that true and lasting happiness only comes when we set aside our own desire for happiness, or pleasure, power, money, and fame, and put other people ahead of ourselves. This is what Jesus did when He became one of us, “Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”(Phil 2:6-11). Jesus emptied Himself, took on our human condition, and willingly bore the Cross and was crucified for us. We must now do what Jesus did. Married people, put your husband or wife ahead of yourself. Parents, put your children ahead of yourselves. Young people, strive to grow in virtue and holiness, to become ready to accept your full responsibility as a Christian. We must all strive to love as Christ loved, and especially those who are most in need.
True happiness is not found in pleasure, which is only temporary; it is found in being close to God. In the same way, true love is not found in warm and fuzzy feelings, which come and go out of our control; true love is found in doing what Jesus did for us and putting the needs of others ahead of our own. As we celebrate the Eucharist, the memorial of Christ Cross and Resurrection, let us ask God to fill us with the love of Jesus and draw us ever closer to His Most Sacred Heart.
Fr. Bryan Howard
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 1 September 2019
Today’s second reading ends with the lines, “You have approached Mount Zion… and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” You might remember the story of Cain and Abel from grade school religion classes. They were two brothers, the children of Adam and Eve. They both made offerings to God, but only Abel’s offering was accepted. Cain, in a jealous rage, kills his brother Abel. God tells Cain, “Listen! Your brothers blood cries out to me from the soil” (Gn 4:10). Whereas Abel’s blood cries out for punishment, the blood of Christ was shed for the salvation of the world and the forgiveness of sins. That is why the blood of Christ “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” When Christ was hanging from the Cross, even as His blood was still dripping to the ground, He turned to the men who had nailed Him to the Cross and prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). If Christ can pray for the forgiveness of the greatest sin ever committed, His own murder, then He can certainly forgive our sins., if we repent of them, so that we may be transformed in the love of God.
Imagine if your neighbor knocks on your door and tells you, “I forgive you for washing your own car.” Well, there’s nothing there to forgive, because it’s your car, so you can wash it whenever you want to. Now, imagine if he says to you, “I forgive you for stealing the tools I let you borrow,” and you respond, “Well, I don’t believe in private property, so it was my right to take those tools.” Now you have a real problem. How can there be forgiveness if there’s no repentance? How can you forgive someone who neither recognizes the wrong they’ve done nor wants to be forgiven? God respects our freedom and won’t force His mercy and forgiveness on us.
Imagine a second scenario. Adolf Hitler has just died and is standing at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter. Looking in, he sees people of all races and groups centered around God, and many people who were killed because of his orders and policies. Would he want to go in, or would he instead think that this cannot be paradise and, instead, choose the alternative. To him, the reality of heaven would be hell, unless he repents and allows himself to be truly transformed in the love of God. Of course, the sin that we should be most concerned with is our own. Hitler’s sins can’t keep me out of heaven, only my own sins can do that.
A lot of people don’t like to talk about forgiveness of sins, because that would be to admit that sin is a real thing. To truly ask for forgiveness and receive it, we must first admit that what we’ve done is wrong, that we’ve offended God and hurt others and ourselves, and that our sins have separated us from God and God’s love. That takes humility. Humility means to recognize the truth about myself and others, so that I recognize that God is God, that I’m not, and that I need His mercy and forgiveness.
Now read today’s Gospel again. Jesus says, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’… Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’” Jesus isn’t teaching people a trick to make themselves look good in front of other people. He’s teaching a spiritual lesson about our relationship with God. Lower yourself and recognize that you aren’t that important and don’t deserve the place of honor. As Jesus says in another place, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” (Lk 17:10). Then, God will come and move you to a higher place in heaven.
Humility isn’t the most important virtue, that would be love, but it is the foundation of all the other virtues. Without humility we can’t grow in virtue because we don’t recognize our faults, we don’t recognize our need for help from both God and other people, and so we don’t repent and pray for God’s help to grow in holiness. So, how do we grow in humility? I’ll give you three things you can start doing today. First, practice gratitude. Find at least three things every day to thank God for. This reminds us that we rely on God and on His grace in our lives and that we can’t do it all by ourselves. Second, practice listening. humility makes us try to find the wisdom in what other people are saying, instead of always trying to our own wisdom. There is a great danger for those who teach others, like priests. You can’t truly listen to someone else without valuing there opinion and thinking that they might say something worth hearing. Third, make a good confession. When we go to the Sacrament of Confession we have to bear our soul to God and let His light and life in. When we make a good confession by focusing on our own sins and not on someone else’s, don’t make excuses, and confess all of our sins that we can remember, it’s a humbling experience to receive forgiveness from our God who loves us more than we love ourselves.
Christ shed His blood for our sins, not to force us to do things His way, but to truly transform us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the spirit of humility, I want to end with the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who says it much more eloquently than I can, “Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return…The Bridegroom’s love… asks in return nothing but faithful love.”
Fr. Bryan Howard
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 18 August 2019
In the 19th century atheism became very popular among intellectuals. Many of them thought that God and religion were basically created by people to give them comfort in their terrible lives. Some of them, like Nietzsche, recognized that life is ultimately meaningless if there is no God, because, eventually, everything would be dead. Others, like Ludwig Feuerbach, thought that religion was holding people back from attaining their true potential. He saw religion as something to comfort people with the thought of a merciful God and eternal happiness in heaven. As Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx, pointing out that the word feuerbach means “stream of fire” in German, said that people need to be baptized in the stream of fire of Feuerbach’s atheism. Today, the Lord speaks of another fire with which He wants to baptize the world, but He means the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Fire can be comforting, like sitting around a campfire or a fireplace, but it’s only comforting if it’s under our control. What those intellectuals don’t understand about religion is that, if God is real, then we aren’t the ones in control, HE IS. We like to think of God as someone quite distant from our lives, Who just sort of lets us get on with things. It’s even better if we see Him as an impersonal force. We believe in a God who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, a God who loves us and calls us to love Him in return, and a God who, when we were lost in sin, came down to find us and bring us back to Him.
There’s no where in the Bible where Jesus tells us to just keep living our lives however we want and we’ll be fine. Instead, we are told, “Let us rid ourself of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race,” “Take up your Cross daily and follow me,” “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood,” and to “enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is broad and the road narrow that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” They don’t crucify people who keep the status quo, they crucify people who challenge the authorities, call people to conversion, and who won’t compromise what is right for temporary gain or personal comfort. It’s true that God is merciful, but in His mercy He doesn’t just want to forgive our sins but to help us to cast them from our lives.
God is real. If we were inventing a God for ourselves, we wouldn’t invent a God who challenges us. We do sometimes project human emotions and traits onto God, but in faith we recognize that God is far beyond us. He is eternal, without beginning or end, and He is the Creator of the universe, and we know from logic that there must be a Creator. Every that exists was caused by something else, but if you follow the train of causes all the way back, you have to come to a first cause. That’s why many atheists thought that the universe was eternal, that it was never created but just was always there. Now we know that the universe as we know it came to exist in the Big Bang, but what caused the Big Bang? If they eventually find a cause for the Big Bang, then we’d have to ask what caused that. There must be a First Cause that doesn’t depend on anything else to exist, and we call this First Cause, God.
God is infinitely beyond us, but He came to be with us, and to be one of us, so that we can be with Him, and be like Him. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” When you receive the Eucharist today, know that you are receiving into your body the very Creator of the Universe, He Who Is, the Source of all life, God Himself. Ask Him to fill you with the fire of His Spirit, to walk the narrow way, to not be satisfied with mediocrity but to strive for perfection, the perfection which only Christ can give.
Fr. Bryan Howard
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 11 August 2019
When I was growing up I used to either walk home from school or ride my bike. I would come in through the back door, into the kitchen, where Maw Maw would usually already be getting dinner ready. We had a sort of tradition where I would try to guess what she was making just from the smell, without actually looking at the pots. To this day I can still imagine the smell of port chops in gravy with baked beans, but then I’d have to wait sometimes for as much as two hours until dinner. Paw Paw would always have to go and “test” the food before dinner time. Waiting is a part of life that we experience every day and that we try to reduce as much as possible. We’ve invented telephones for instant communication, self-checkout lanes at stores, and next day shipping. Our readings today are all about waiting, but active waiting, making themselves ready to receive what they’re waiting for.
We, like them, are always waiting for God. We wait for Him to tell us what He wants us to do, we wait for Him to speak to us and give us grace, and we wait for heaven, but how do we make ourselves ready to receive what He wants to give us?
The Letter to the Hebrews gives us Abraham as an example of faith. God promised to give Abraham the land that He would lead him to, but Abraham had to set out on his journey without knowing where He was going, and even when He got there he didn’t possess the land. He lived in a tent as a nomad, and his descendants wouldn’t take possession of the land until hundreds of years later. God also promised to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore of the sea. The name Abram actually means “exalted father,” but Abraham didn’t actually have any children at all until he was almost 90 years old, then God changed his name to “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” This is ridiculous, he had one change, that’s not exactly a multitude. Why would God choose a man named Exalted Father as the father of his chosen people and then not give him a son until he was almost 90 years old? It’s because Abraham is to be the Father of Faith. As the Bible says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gn 15:6).
Hebrews says about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.” In his journey with God, Abraham learns to trust the Lord. At times he stumbles and falls, but he always turns back to God. He learns to trust that God will keep His promises, will keep His word, even though the promises are never fulfilled in his lifetime. We are Abraham’s children through faith, not by blood. We are called to follow his example of faith.
Just like Abraham, God made promises to us when Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). Just like Abraham we have a journey ahead of us, a pilgrimage or religious journey, before we can receive the promise. Just like Abraham, we won’t reach our destination until after we’ve died, as St. Paul said, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rm 6:8).
That’s why, in the Gospel, Jesus says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We aren’t called to just sit around waiting for God to do all the work; we are called to prepare for the Day of the Lord by cooperating with God’s grace working in our lives. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples to gird their loins and light their lamps, to care for their fellow servants, and not to mistreat them. Just like Abraham obeyed God, even when it was difficult, so our faith should lead to obedience of the commandments. As Jesus said, “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.”
The end of today’s Gospel should be especially concerning to those who teach the faith, like myself, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” So can we just claim ignorance as an excuse for our sins? No, because we are morally required to seek the truth and live it. Deliberate ignorance is itself a sin. Only genuine ignorance, or, as the Church calls us, invincible ignorance, is an excuse.
Finally, I want to talk about judging others. We try to justify ourselves by pointing at others. “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.” We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people, but to God. Don’t try to be better than someone else, but to be the person that God is calling you to be, and always be harder on your own sins than on someone else’s. Hypocrisy is the sin of being harder on others than on yourselves, and Jesus is constantly calling out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, like when he told His disciples to do what they say, but not what they do. They teach the truth, but they don’t follow it themselves.
At the beginning of Mass I mentioned that yesterday was the Feast of St. Lawrence. When the Roman’s came to arrest Pope St. Sixtus and the oath six deacons of the Church of Rome, the spared St. Lawrence the Deacon and told him that he had 4 days to gather the treasury of the Church of Rome and turn it over, or else. He did gather the treasury, and he gave it to the needy. He went to the Roman officials with a group of the poor, indigent, sick, widows, and orphans, and told them, “Here is the treasure of the Church.” They martyred Him by roasting him on a gridiron, but he went to his death with good humor, telling the executioners, “Flip me over, I’m done on this side.” He could go to his death with joy, because he had faith in the promise of eternal life. Every time we approach this altar to receive the Eucharist we are given a taste, or a promise, as it were, of what awaits us in heaven. Prepare yourself every day so that, when that day comes, you can receive what was promised with joy.
Fr. Bryan Howard
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 4 August 2019
Jesus says that the first and most important commandment is to Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind, and all your soul, and that second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. God made us for love, and we naturally want to devote ourselves to another person or thing, like God, our spouse and children, or our country. Unfortunately, we often get the things that we love out of balance. When God is first in our lives, the One we are devoted to above everything else, then we have the help of God to love everyone else in our lives better, in the way that God loves us, by putting their needs ahead of our own. We are created for love, for devotion, but we sometimes devote ourselves to the wrong things, or to the right things in the wrong way, and this can lead us to neglect the things that ought to come first in our lives.
We don’t worship statues anymore like our ancestors did, but the Bible calls those idols, “the work of our hands,” because people were worshiping something that they had created; we still struggle with worshiping the work of our own hands. We think that having more money will bring safety and happiness. Money can bring a certain amount of stability, safety, and happiness to our lives and allow us to take care of our families, but only temporarily. The book of Ecclesiastes says, “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property,” and in the Gospel, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Money is only helpful in this life; it is completely useless in the afterlife. Will you spend all of your time preparing for the trials of this life and neglect to prepare for the afterlife? As Christ said, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Sometimes it’s not money in general, but certain things in particular that we become overly attached to. Is there anything in your life that you just can’t live without? Is there anything in your life that you wouldn’t want to leave even to go to heaven? When we become too attached to something, it’s starts to control us, to influence how we make decisions. Do you possess the things in your life, or do they possess you? Some people can get like that about their appearance, or their car, or football or other TV shows, or their pets. None of these things should come before God or before your family. Used properly, they can elevate our lives, but, used improperly, they can become like an anchor holding us down. Don’t let them bring you all the way down.
When we neglect our relationship with God, these other things naturally fill up that space in our lives. However, if we give the type of devotion that should be reserved only for God to anything else, then we are com
mitting idolatry. None of those thing can bring us fulfillment even in this life, much less in eternal life. We were created for something better, for something more, and when we give ourselves to something that is less, then we become less. We become more like what we worship. If we worship things, then we will become like those things, but if we worship God He will raise us up to be like Himself, even in this life, and for eternity in heaven.
Worship never stops at just words; it is, as I said at the beginning, true devotion. When we are devoted to something we give it our time, our attention, and our respect. The best way to guard against making something an idol in your life is to be truly devoted to God, as St. Paul wrote, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Give Him your time, go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Give Him your attention. God has given us a great gift in the Bible; it teaches us about God, about God’s will for our lives, and about how to be saved. If you’re not sure how to get started, I think the best way is to read the readings for the next Sunday during the week and let them start to soak in throughout the week. You can find them by googling “Catholic Mass readings,” or by purchasing a Sunday Missal from any Catholic book store, like Pauline’s Books and Media in Metairie. Finally, give God respect. We disrespect God in so many ways, by taking His name in vain, by making promises to Him and not keeping them, by blaspheming Him and His mother. Disrespect for others is becoming more and more common in the United States. If we can’t respect God because He created us and sent His Son to redeem us, then we should at least learn to fear Him, as Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
This week, ask yourself what the idols in your life are and how they influence your life an decisions. Ask God to help you to dethrone those idols and crown Him as King in your life and in your family.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.