Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Advent – Year C – 9 December 2018
During this time of year we are tempted to indulge ourselves in all of the things that we like, and to indulge ourselves to excess. At Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, if we don’t eat to the point of barely being able to move, then we feel like we failed. Consumerism and consumption are the rule of the day. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but we are all tempted by our consumerist culture and can easily be tempted to overdo it. We need to get the newest smart phone, even though last year’s model was probably more than sufficient. Some of the companies even design the phone so that you can’t just replace the battery and so have to buy an entire new phone. And it’s not just phones, lots of companies design their products to fail or go obsolete after a certain amount of time so you have to buy a new one. Did you ever wonder why car companies come out with new models and designs of cars every few years? Well, GM started the practice in 1924 as an incentive for people to buy a new car even though their old one was still working just fine.
Over-indulgence is always bad. Drinking too much alcohol, eating too much, gambling too much, and spending too much eventually lead to problems like addictions, health problems, and damaged relationships. Virtue is in moderation: not too much and not too little. Courage, for example, is the mid-point between cowardice, not enough courage, and recklessness, too much courage. Temperance is the mid-point between lust and gluttony, excessive indulgence, and puritanism, the excessive denial of bodily pleasure.
We usually fall more on the side of excessive indulgence and not enough on the side of self-denial, but we need both in order to be balanced both physically and spiritually. The Church has a lot less rules about fasting than she used to. We are no longer required to abstain from meat every Friday, just in Lent now, but we are still required to do some sort of penance or to fast from something, whether that’s meat or sweats or television or something else of your choosing. It should be something that you’ll actually miss, a real sacrifice for God. Through these acts of self-denial we train ourselves to be able to say no to our desires and impulses. If we only ever give in to those temptations then our desires will begin to rule over us. If I can learn to say no even to good things, things that aren’t sinful, out of love for God, then I’ll be better able to say no when I am tempted to sin.
What is the most important thing in life? Money, pleasure, prestige are temporary and fleeting. They last a little while and then they’re gone. We can’t take them with us when we die, and they can’t even give us true joy here on earth. Don’t let the things in your life distract you from the purpose of your life: to love and serve God in this life and to praise Him forever in heaven. In today’s Gospel we’re encouraged to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and to fill in every valley and level every mountain. The valleys and mountains are the things in our lives that keep us from God. Advent is about preparing to welcome Jesus at Christmas, so let’s really prepare to welcome Him.
The first way you can do that is by fasting and self-denial. When you fast, increase your hunger for the Lord.
Another way you can do that is by buying someone an anonymous gift or doing something for them in secret. That way, they can’t pay you back or return the favor.
Also, after Christmas when you’re putting away all of the things people gave you, pick out one or two of your older things to donate to good will.
Finally, if you have children, come up with a family charity to donate to this Christmas. Let the kids help pick it out and contribute to the donation from their own money.
In these ways we can all learn that Christmas isn’t about the things that we receive; it’s about the love that we receive from God and that we give back to God and one another in return.
I preached from an outline this week instead of a complete text, but I did want to post some of the resources that I used.
You can find the readings for the November 18, 2018, HERE.
I used the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the Second Coming, paragraphs 668-679, which can be found HERE.
I also referenced Philippians 2:10-11 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-30.
Fr. Bryan Howard
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 11 November 2018
Today is the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was called, at the time, the Great War and the War to End All Wars. At 5 am in the morning the armistice was signed, and at 11 am, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the fighting ended. The war had left over 16 million dead, almost 10 million soldiers and about 6 million civilians, at the time that was about 1% of the population of the world. The war left all of Europe traumatized, so it’s fitting that today we reflect on the reality of death and on what follows after.
Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, I wanted to start by posing the question, “What would you be willing to die for?” Normally, we protect our lives with more determination than anything else, but there are some things that we value even above our live, and these are the things for which we may be willing to give our lives: family, freedom, homeland, and faith. Those who give their lives for the faith are called martyrs, and they get a one way ticket to heaven, and Jesus even said, “Greater love than this has no man, that he lay down his life for his friend.”
But what happens when we die? Spiritually, death is when the soul separates from the body, which happens when the body can no longer live. After death, the soul is immediately judged by God and either goes to purgatory, heaven, or hell. At the end of time there will be another judgement when purgatory will be closed down and all souls will be divided between heaven and hell, but your individual soul is judged right after you die. Those who die unrepentant for their mortal sins go to hell, because they’ve chosen to separate themselves from the grace of God by how they’ve lived their lives. Those who die in a state of grace, that is, those who strive to follow God in their lives, who repent of their sins, and who love God and neighbor, either go to purgatory or heaven. God is merciful, and forgives the sins of those who repent, but God is also just, and expects us to make up for our sins. If we don’t make up for them here on earth, then we must make up for them in purgatory. Now, purgatory isn’t fun, the Bible describes it as passing through the fire, but it’s also a place of great hope, because once you’re in purgatory you know that you will get to heaven eventually.
However, we believe that death does not mean that we are completely separated from our loved ones; we are still connected through the Holy Spirit and through the grace of baptism. We can still help the souls in purgatory by praying and sacrificing for them, just like we can pray for the living. The saints can help both the living and the souls in purgatory through their prayers, and the souls in purgatory help pray for us once they get to heaven.
Life is a great gift, because as long as we live we can repent and turn back to the Lord. Once we die we’ve lost that opportunity. I asked you before, “What would you be willing to die for?” Just as important is the question, “What do you live for?” That is the question that our Gospel asks us today. Jesus begins by rebuking those who prey on others for their own benefit, saying, “Beware of the scribes…. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” This goes for anyone who takes advantage of those who are most vulnerable or who only live for themselves. Whenever we act out of pride, greed, hate, envy, lust, gluttony, or sloth we are putting ourselves ahead of others and ahead of God.
However, Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t sin,” he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and, “They will know you are my disciples by the love that you have for one another.” The second part of today’s Gospel describes how Jesus watched people making their donations at the Temple, “Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’” That’s what it means to live a life of heroic virtue. The widow gave all that she had, and we’re called to give all that we have for God and for our neighbor. Just like in war very few soldiers get the opportunity to impact the outcome of a battle by one great heroic act, but it’s the quiet heroism of all the soldiers that makes a difference. So in life the little sacrifices, the small acts of kindness, the daily heroism of doing for one another without counting the cost is what really makes the difference.
If today is your last day and tonight you have to stand before the judgement seat of God, will you be able to make an account of your life? Live every day as if it might be your last, don’t wait to repent, because it might be too late. Start living now with your eyes set on heaven.
Fr. Bryan Howard
All Saints Day – 4 November 2018
A lot of non-religious people get religion and superstition mixed up. Because they have limited experience of religion, they think that religion is basically just another form of superstition. A superstition is something we do that we think has some sort of mysterious power over the universe. We can’t really explain why, but we do it anyway. However, when we look at the lives of the saints, we see that religion is really about relationships: our relationship with our self, our relationship with the world around us, our relationships with other people, and, most importantly, our relationship with God.
We probably all do some superstitious things. Maybe when you say that you hope something doesn’t happen you knock on wood, or maybe you won’t pick up a coin unless it’s face up, or maybe you won’t walk under a ladder, or maybe you wear the same pair of socks for every Saints game. Logically, we know that knocking on wood doesn’t prevent anything bad from happening, but we do it anyway, because, why not? That’s how many non-religious people look at religion. They see us doing a bunch of things, like pray rosaries, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and wearing scapulars, that don’t make any sense to them. Most of the time they don’t see any harm in religion, but they also don’t see any good, either.
Sometimes even people of faith can start to treat religion like a superstition as well. We can start to see religion as a check list: if I do all of these things, then I’ll go to heaven, or be blessed by God, or some other reward. Christianity is about having a relationship with God by becoming part of His family, which we call the Church, and which is made up of the Church militant, those of us still here on earth, the Church Suffering, those in purgatory, and the Church triumphant, the angels and saints in heaven. What kind of relationship do we want to have with God? Listen to St. Paul, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” We are the children of God the Father, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, God the Son, and we are united by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. We don’t do good things so that God will love us, we strive to do good because God loves us and we love Him.
Praying isn’t superstition, it’s talking with God and listening to Him; it’s a conversation. Fasting isn’t superstition either. Fasting is making a sacrifice for God and saying that we love God more than we love the thing we’re giving up. Devotions aren’t superstition; they’re ways of trying to become more like God, just like children try to imitate their parents. That’s what the beatitudes are, too. They’re ways of imitating God and becoming more God-like. When we become more humble, sorrowful for sin, meek, merciful, pure of heart, and hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are imitating Jesus Christ.
On this All Saints Day imitate the saints in trying to grow in love for God and for one another, imitate Christ in the way you live, and think about the reasons behind the religious things that you do. You may not know the reasons for all of them, like why we sit, stand, and kneel so much in Mass, but I bet, if you look into it, it’s all about growing in faith, respect, and love for God.
Fr. Bryan Howard
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 28 October 2018
There was a very intelligent young man who grow up in a home with a Catholic mother and a non-Catholic father. His mother was very religious, but his father wasn’t very religious at all. During his teenage years, he began to think of Catholicism as childish and silly. He slowly began to drift away from the Church. When he went to college, to study law, he fully left the Church. He eventually got his girlfriend pregnant and had her move in with him. He basically, according to his own words, lived for the pleasures of life. Does that story sound familiar to you? I’m talking about a specific person, but I bet almost everyone here knows someone like that. It may be a very modern story, but it actually happened 1600 years ago. I’m talking about St. Augustine of Hippo, priest, bishop, and Doctor of the Church.
St. Augustine was never satisfied with his life. The pursuit of pleasure didn’t give any lasting satisfaction and neither did his intellectual pursuits. He went from one philosophy and religion to another, searching for the truth. Then one day while he was sitting in a garden reflecting he heard the words, “Take, read.” He saw that there was a copy of the Bible next to him and he picked it up and started to read. Through prayer and study and with the help of his mother, St. Monica, and the local bishop, St. Ambrose of Milan, he came back to the faith of his childhood and was eventually ordained as a priest and latter a bishop. He knew that there was something wrong, something missing, and he never stopped searching for it. Eventually, his search lead him back to God.
Our Gospel today follows a similar pattern. Bartimaeus the blind man was sitting on the side of the road begging, when he heard a commotion. Someone told him that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by, so Bartimaeus began to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on my.” He had obstacles in his way, too. The people around tried to shut him up and stop him from bothering Jesus, but he didn’t let it stop him. He knew that He needed help, and he knew that Jesus could help him, so he kept calling to Jesus even louder. Jesus heard him and called him over and asked what he wanted. He didn’t beat around the bush but he got right to the point, “Master, I want to see.” And Jesus replied, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
This is a true story with a spiritual lesson. Bartimaeus knows what he needs, his sight restored. He knows where he can get it, from Jesus, and he keeps going no matter what gets in his way. Jesus says that his faith has saved him, but he needs faith to get it. Compare Bartimaeus to another man Jesus helped at the pool of Siloam. He was crippled, and had been coming to that pool for 38 years hoping to be healed. Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed, but he makes excuses. He doesn’t even say yes. Then, later, he hands Jesus over to the Pharisees. Bartimaeus needed faith to see that only Jesus could help him.
We have disabilities, too, spiritual disabilities. Sin is a type of blindness. It blinds us to what is happening in our own soul and we don’t want to admit that we have a problem. The pleasures of this world can never fully satisfy us. The only thing that we seek for its own sake is happiness. Whether it’s eating good food, watching a movie, seeking political office, trying to become famous, or playing the lottery, everything you do is for something else. You play the lottery to get money, which you use to buy a new boat, which you use to go fishing, which makes you happy. You can do the same thing with every decision. We may not always be right that something will make us happy, but that’s what we ultimately want.
The problem with sin is that it only makes us happy in the short term and makes us miserable in the long term. Even good things only make us happy temporarily. You’ll eventually finish that meal and get hungry again, and that movie will end, and that boat will need repairs. Only God can make us truly happy for all eternity, because he made us to be in a relationship with Himself. There is a God-shaped hole in our hearts, and only God can fit in it. So, never stop seeking God. Don’t let any obstacle stop you, and know that God will never put anything in your path that you can’t get through with His help.
St. Augustine wrote the first autobiography, and I’ll finish with his own words about his search for God. In The Confessions, he wrote, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you! Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there that I sought you, and, a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you…You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light, and have shone upon me, and you have put my blindness to flight!”
Fr. Bryan Howard
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 7 October 2018
I may have told you this story before, but it’s worth telling again. In 1947 the Fort Lauderdale Hurricane, also called the Hurricane of 1947, struck the coast of Florida as a category 4, killing 17 people. It passed over Florida into the Gulf and made a bee line for New Orleans. It passed right over the Business District downtown as a strong category 2, killing 34 people along the Gulf Coast. As the eye passed over the city, a young man named Bob Peyton left his house and walked, through the flood waters, to the other side of the city to check on a girl he liked, Jeannette Hudson. When her father answered the door he took one look at Bob and turned back, calling, “Jeannette, that Peyton boy is here, he’s either insane or he’s in love.” They would get married about 3 years later and eventually have 5 children, including my mom.
People sometimes ask me how I knew I was called to be a priest. If they’re married it’s easy to answer; I just ask them how they knew their spouse was the one for them. It’s something that’s hard to explain, isn’t it? But you know, just the same. Both the priesthood and marriage are vocations. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which literally means “to call,” as in to call someone from the other room or call someone on the phone. They’re called the sacraments of service. You see, all the other sacraments give you grace so you can grow in holiness: baptism makes you a Christian, confirmation stirs up the grace of the Holy Spirit in your soul, confession forgives your sins, Communion unites you to the Body of Christ, and anointing of the sick brings healing to your soul. The Sacraments of Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony give you a grace to help you serve someone else. In Holy Orders, deacons, priests, and bishops are called to serve God and His Church, and in Holy Matrimony, and man and woman are called to serve one another.
Christ won the grace of the sacraments for us on the Cross by pouring out His life for us. Married people are called, in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony, to live out the love that Christ gave us through His Cross and Resurrection: a love that is complete and unconditional, that is freely given as a gift, and that is fruitful, bringing about new life. When Jesus talks about marriage in the Bible, He points us back to the book of Genesis, to the creation of Eve and the marriage of Adam and Eve. That passage recounts how Eve was created when God cast Adam into a deep sleep, took a rib from his side, and formed the rib into Eve. This says something about the type of relationship that Adam and Eve are supposed to have. What does the rib cage do? It protects the heart and lungs. The ancient Hebrews thought of the heart not as the center of passion, like we do, but as the source of life, so Eve’s job is to guard Adam’s life, and Adam’s job is to give of his own flesh and blood, his own life, for his wife Eve.
That is God’s original plan for marriage. Unfortunately, sin enters the story to tear apart the relationships between Adam and Eve and God, but Jesus points us back there to understand what the purpose of marriage is. In a natural sense, the purpose of marriage is to have and raise children. We’re not like ants who can start working as soon as we’re born; we need love and care to grow in maturity, and the best way for children to get that is with the father and mother. But Jesus raised marriage from natural to supernatural when he made it a sacrament. Spiritually, the reason for marriage is for husband and wife to reflect the love of God in the world by the love they share with one another, and thus help one another to get to heaven. To put it simply, your job, as a husband or wife, is to get your spouse to heaven. This is why praying together as a family and coming to Mass together as a family are so important and so powerful. It shows your family, and especially your children, that spending time with God each Sunday is important and is worth making sacrifices for.
If the love of God is unconditional, then husbands and wives shouldn’t put conditions on their love for one another. I know that’s not realistic in our fallen world, but that why the second and third most important phrases a husband and wife can learn, after “I love you,” are “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”
If the love of God is faithful and never abandons us, then husbands and wives are called to fidelity. They promise to be faithful to one another in their vows when the promise to be true to one another “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love you and to honor you all the days of my life.”
If the love of God is fruitful, then husbands and wives are called to be fruitful, not only in having children, but in raising them in the faith and in being a witness in the world to the love of God. The one thing that gives me the most joy and encouragement in my priesthood is seeing families who are really trying to live out the love of God. Being generous with your spouse and children is the best way to show the generosity and fruitfulness of God.
Today is Respect Life Sunday, where we focus on the dignity of all human life. I’m convinced that the best way to increase the respect for life in our countries is through strong, healthy, holy families. So, as you pray for an increase in respect for life this month, also pray for holy families.
Fr. Bryan Howard
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 30 September 2018
Today is the memorial of Saints Victor and Urban. Victor and Urban were Roman legionaries. A Roman Legion was a Roman army consisting of 6,600 soldiers. This particular legion was recruited from Egypt, every member was Christian, ad every member is today considered a saint, even though we only know the names of 17 of them. They are called the Theban Legion. Around the year 287 AD, Emperor Maximian lead an army, including the Theban Legion, to suppress a rebellion in modern day France. Part of the preparation for battle was to offer sacrifices to the gods asking for victory, but the Theban Legion refused. The Emperor ordered all of them to be executed. These 6,600 legionaries, including Saints Victor and Urban, gave an example of faith, hope, and love that is still speaking to us today.
Giving an example is important because it is the highest form of teaching. You can try to teach someone the highest and most revered principles and values but if you don’t strive to live them, then your words don’t mean anything, because your very live is speaking a different message. Of course, we all consider martyrdom to be the highest example you can give, because it means that you consider this thing to be more valuable than even your own life. For a Catholic, a martyr is someone who shows that they are ready to accept death out of love for God and who is killed out of hatred for the faith. This is what the members of the Theban Legion did.
We also talk about White Martyrdom. If dying for the faith is the definition of red martyrdom, then white martyrdom means to live the faith in a heroic way in love of God and neighbor. Think of saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio, and St. Louis IX, King of France. They didn’t die for the faith, but they certainly lived it heroically.
If giving an example is so important, then we should pay close attention to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I way to you, will surely not lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little one who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to go into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
I’ve quotes this section at length to emphasize the words of Jesus. When we use the words scandal we’re usually talking about some celebrity who did something outrageous and ended up on the cover of some tabloid. When the Church talks about scandal, we mean doing something that gives a negative example, and therefore leading someone else into sin. Jesus doesn’t mean that you should literally cut off your hands and feet and pluck out your eyes. In fact, the Church considers self-mutilation to be a serious sin. No, Jesus means that you should cut out of your life anything that leads you away from love. Love of God and neighbor is the highest law, therefore, sin is anything that’s against love. The highest act of love is to give your life, as Jesus Himself said, “Greater love than this has no man, to lay down your life for your friend.” That’s just what Jesus Himself did on the Cross. He didn’t have to die; He’s God. He chose to allow Himself to be killed to give us an example, a witness of the love of God, and to show us that God loves us so much that He came down to be with us and even to give His life for us.
Sts. Victor and Urban and their companions gave an example of love in willingly giving their lives for God. Soldiers, first responders, and many other people give us an example of love by putting themselves in harm’s way for other people. They don’t do it because they want to die, but because they love. You may never get the opportunity to lay down your life for love of God or neighbor, but you have an opportunity every day every day to show God’s love in the way you treat the people around you.
When you come up to receive the Eucharist remember that the Eucharist is the memorial of the Cross. In it are all of the graces that Christ won for us on the Cross, and those are the graces that God greatly desires to pour out into your soul. Ask God for the strength to give a good and holy example, not for your own glory or so your name is remembered hundreds of years from now, but for the greater glory of God and out of love for Him and for all of His children, both those here on earth and those already in heaven.
St. Victor, pray for us.
St. Urban, pray for us.
All you holy men and women, pray for us.
Fr. Bryan Howard
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 23 September 2018
Probably one of the most common prayers that people have is for peace on earth. All right thinking people desire peace, right? We don’t want to fight and argue and kill; we just want to get on with our lives. You see this even when you study military history. One of the great secrets of war is that most people can’t bring themselves to intentionally try to kill another person. In 1947, following World War II, the US military did a study and interviewed thousands of soldiers. They found that only about ¼ of front line soldiers even fired at the enemy and only about 2% aimed to intentionally kill. The rest, the other ¾ would fire over the enemy, or into the ground, or off to the side. Most soldiers just wanted the enemy to go away, a firing a gun in someone’s general direction is a very good way to encourage someone to go away. Similarly, 1% of fighter pilots account for about 50% of fighter kills, and the other 99% account for the other 50%. There are many firsthand accounts from throughout history of soldiers, perhaps on patrol, coming across a group of enemies, and the two groups shout insults at each other and maybe put down their weapons and throw sticks and rocks at each other until one group or the other goes away. The instinct for peace is a very strong human instinct. So, why is there so much war and violence in the world?
St. James explains, in his epistle, that wars come from our misplaced passions. He writes, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” It takes a very strong force to overcome our desire for peace, a force like anger, jealousy, greed, lust for power, or some other very strong passion. St. James tells us that these passions, when they are misplaced or disordered, can lead to conflict and war. He continues, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.”
Entire wars are fought over these reasons. Most wars start over competition for resources, land, and power. Again, World War II is a good example. Part of the reason for the war was Hitler’s lust for power, but that wasn’t all of it. He had to convince most of Germany to go to war. He did that by stoking their anger from the aftermath of World War I, their jealousy, especially at the Jews, and their desire for more land and resources for Germany. He called it lebensraum, or growing space.
The same forces that are behind most of the wars in human history are inside each one of us. Most of the conflicts, the arguments and fights, in our lives are caused by disordered passions. Think about some of the arguments and fights that you’ve been in, with your spouse or other family members or friends or ever strangers. How many of those can be traced back to anger, jealousy, or greed. One person wants something and they perceive the other person to be an obstacle to getting it. It can be as simple as a man coming home from work after a long day and all he wants is to sit down and relax and decompress, but maybe his wife’s been home alone all day and she really feels like she needs to talk. He gets annoyed that she’s won’t leave him alone, she gets annoyed that he isn’t listening, and pretty soon they’re fighting.
Here’s another scenario else that’s all too common. Someone in the family dies and it comes time to divide their stuff. How many times have arguments over inheritances divided families for years, and sometimes they never reconcile. Most of the time, if you talk with the two sides latter neither will think it was worth it, but they let the emotions of the moment get away from them.
We know that complete and lasting peace will only come when we’re in heaven. Our job now is to seek peace and strive to minimize conflict and violence in the world, starting with ourselves and in our own hearts and souls. Pray for peace, but also work for peace. In today’s Gospel we hear that the apostles were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. Jesus tells them, “’If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, received not me but the One who sent me.’” Jesus calls us to give and not to take, to serve and not to desire to be served, to strive for innocence, not influence and power. No matter what you do, whether you’re a CEO of a company, a manager, an office worker, a factory worker, a farmer, a fisherman, a housewife, or a member of the clergy, Jesus is calling you to use that position and any authority you have to serve, and to serve especially those who are most in need. That is how we promote peace in the world, and that is how we live in the peace of Christ.
Fr. Bryan Howard
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 2 September 2018
Throughout the Bible sin is compared with a disease, most often the disease of leprosy, and there are a lot of parallels between what diseases do to our bodies and what sin does to our soul, and about the strongest comparison I can make is with cancer. Cancer can take many forms, some that are easily treated and some that are deadly. Our chances of getting cancer can be increased by the way we live and the things are us. If we live in an unhealthy way or spend a lot of time around things like asbestos, then we have a much higher risk of getting cancer. Ultimately, though, cancer comes from inside us, from our cells mutating out of control. Similarly, our chance of falling into sin can be increased by surrounding ourselves with bad influences, but it comes from within, from our own free choice to do something that we know is wrong. That’s also where the main difference is. It’s impossible to sin on accident; it always starts with making a choice to pursue the bad instead of the good, wrong instead of right. As Jesus says in the Gospel, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
When you get cancer, it doesn’t always make you sick immediately; it’ll start to spread from one tissue to another and one organ to another. Then, you’ll start to get weaker, to get sick, to feel the effects of the cancer, and if you don’t catch it early enough, it’s too late. Sin is often the same way. It pretends to be something good and to give us something good, like influence, power, wealth, or simply pleasure. That’s how it spreads, slowly taking over, unless we’re fighting against it. Then, we start to notice the effects. It starts in the will, as we find it harder and harder to control our choices and our desires. Then it affects our minds, our ability to reason, making it easier to make excuses for actions. Finally, we see the sin is not just broken rules, but broken lives and broken relationships, as sin will eventually damage or break our relationships with the people around us, with our family and friends, and with God.
Once you know that you have cancer, you have to treat it. First, you have to find out how far it’s spread, and once you know that, you can remove all of the infected tissue, either through radiation therapy or through surgery. If we want to be rid of our sins the first thing is to be honest with ourselves and admit the extent of the problem. This is what confession is for. People always ask, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest? Why can’t I just confess directly to God?” One reason is because, it usually doesn’t work. The Sacrament of Confession is given to us by God for the forgiveness of sins and it has the power not only to forgive our sins, but to strengthen us against them and begin to bring healing to our wounded souls. With cancer, the treatment isn’t finished until all of the cancer is gone, and even then, you have to keep track of it for the rest of your life to make sure it doesn’t come back. Well, we’ll never be completely rid of sin in this life. It’s a constant battle against it, but we can make progress and push it back, but only if we truly desire to be free of it.
Finally, as the saying goes, “ An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With our physical health, there are certain things we do to combat a specific disease, and other things we do to just generally stay healthy. For example, you don’t need to take antibiotics unless you have an infection, but you always need to eat healthy and stay physically active. The same thing is true in the spiritual life. To stay spiritually healthy, that is to strengthen our relationship with God, we need to go to Mass and confession regularly, pray and fast, do spiritual reading (especially the Bible), and practice charity, as St. Paul says in our second reading, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Doing these things will give you a healthy spiritual life, keep you close to Jesus, and help you to avoid sin.
For most things, we accept that there’s a right and wrong way to go about things. There are only a few right ways to paint a house, but there are a lot of wrong ways, and if you take short cuts in preparing the wall, then you’ll get an inferior product. There are only a few right ways to swing a golf club, but there are a lot of wrong ways, and you know immediately which one you’ve done. For some reason we find it hard to accept that the spiritual life is the same way. Living by these principles, given to us by Jesus, worked out by the Sacred Tradition, and seen in the lives of the saints, gives us a trajectory that will get us to heaven. If you veer off course you may not see the results right away, it may look like everything is going just fine. It’s like the time my uncle was cooking some okra and he wanted to get rid of the slime, but he used baking soda instead of vinegar. You’ll eventually figure out that you made a mistake somewhere, and hopefully it’s not too late to save the okra. In case you couldn’t guess, the okra was ruined.
I’m posting links for two different files this week. During all of the Masses this week, after my homily, I addressed the clerical sex abuse scandal and the recent news stories about it. Since some people might want to listen only to one or the other, I’ll post my homily first, titled “August_19_2018,” and the message second, titled “Message_on_Clerical_Abuse.”
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.