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 Howard
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 28 July 2019
The force of our readings today is that we have been made members of the family of God through the grace of the Holy Spirit which we have received by being baptized into the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We take it for granted that God is our Father and we are His children, adoptive brothers and sisters of Jesus, but that is actually a revolutionary idea. The Jewish people think of Israel as a whole as a child of God, but the only individual in the Old Testament to be called a Son of God was King Solomon. The Muslims consider it blasphemy to call God Father. They consider themselves servants or slaves of God. In most of our most common prayers we call God Father: I believe in God the Father Almighty, Glory be to the Father, and Our Father who art in heaven.
We know that God is our Father and we are His children, but we don’t always act like it. We bargain with God, make deals with Him, we think that we need to buy our way into God’s family by being “good people,” You cannot earn heaven; there isn’t enough gold in the world to buy eternal life. You didn’t earn your place in your human family, you were born into it as a baby, and, no matter what you do, even if your actions cause you to be separated from the family, they are still your family, and, ideally, you can be forgiven if you truly repent and change your way of life. It’s the same with God’s family. You are born into it, often as a baby, through baptism, which Jesus calls being born from above. You can’t stop being a part of God’s family, the Church, but your actions can cause you to be separated from it, but forgiveness is always available for those who repent and pledge to change their lives. The “Our Father” isn’t just a prayer, it’s an expression of trust in “Our Father.”
In the Mass, at the prayer of consecration over the chalice, the priest says, “Take this, all of you, and drink of it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the New and Eternal Covenant.” The covenant is one of the most important ideas for understanding what it means to be a Christian. A covenant is a holy, family bond that is sealed by making a sacrifice of blood and taking an oath. Unfortunately, we usually treat the New Covenant as a type of contract. They are both agreements between people which are sealed by a promise and have consequences if they’re broken.
The most common covenant we enter is marriage, where two people who are unrelated go before God, take oaths, and become family and from that point on they share their lives with one another. So, a contract is about the exchange of goods and services; a covenant is about sharing life. A contract is for a limited time; a covenant is for an unlimited time, until death. A contract is sealed by invoking my own name; a covenant is sealed by invoking God’s name, because we recognize that we need God’s help to keep our promises.
At our baptisms the Holy Spirit entered our souls, making us Temples of the Holy Trinity, because God Himself came to live in us. As we sang before reading the Gospel, “You have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father.” There’s nothing we can do to buy our way into God’s family; it’s a totally free and unearned gift, a grace, as it were. However, now that we’re in God’s family, we are expected to live as members of God’s family. St. Paul writes earlier in the same letter that we just heard from, “So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” The Holy Spirit gives us the power that we need to keep God’s commandments, but we still need to actually walk in them, to walk in Christ.
How do we know what we should do? Take Jesus Himself as your example. Form your conscience by studying the Word of God in the Bible and by keeping the traditions of the Church. In the traditions of the Church and the lives of the saints, we see the Wisdom of God as it has actually been lived out in real lives over the course of two millennia. There is a lot of wisdom there, and we can make it our own.
Finally, what happens when we inevitably break God’s commandments and commit sins? We sometimes presume on God’s mercy by assuming that He will forgive us, which is disrespectful of God. We also sometimes underestimate God’s mercy and love, by thinking that our sins are too terrible or that we are unforgivable. Read our first reading again. God is eager to show mercy, but we have to want to be forgiven, and for that we need to admit that we’re wrong and that we’ve sinned. If Jesus could look down from the Cross at the very people who put Him there, the Roman legionaries, and pray for the Father to forgive them, then He can certainly forgive us. His heart was pierced on the Cross for our forgiveness, so let us not harden our hearts but break them open in the Confessional and allow God to remake them, to recreate us, in His compassion. The Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession are the Sacraments par excellence of God’s mercy, because it was through the shedding of His blood that the life of God was poured out for us, and through Confession the Divine life that was lost in sin is restored to our souls. Our Heavenly Father is a father who knows how to give good gifts to His children; let us learn to eagerly await those gifts.
Fr. Bryan Howard
16thSunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C – 21 July 2019
Psalm 15, today’s Responsorial Psalm, begins by asking the question, “O Lord, who will dwell in your tabernacle? Who will rest on your holy mountain?” Which is another way of asking, “How do we grow closer to God? How do we get to heaven?” The answer, walk blamelessly, do justice, know the truth in your heart, do not slander or harm your neighbor, despise sin but honor those who fear the Lord. That is, the holy and righteous man who follows the Law of God in loving God and neighbor will be taken up to heaven. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Psalm 15, because He is the only perfectly righteous man who never sinned and always followed God’s will.
We, on the other hand, often fall short of that ideal, but we should never give up. Instead, we should strive to grow closer to that ideal, the example that Jesus gives us, each day of our lives. To do that we need to train ourselves, as a craftsman has to train in their craft, or an artist at their art, or an athlete at their sport. Baseball players have to train not only to hit, catch, and throw, but to keep their bodies in good physical condition. We have to train ourselves spiritually to keep our souls in good spiritual condition so that we can more easily love God and neighbor in those challenging circumstances, like when we’re tempted to sin, stressed out and irritated, or enduring some form of suffering.
Christian training comes in two forms: active and passive, prayers and works of charity. There are different religious orders in the Church which focus on one or the other of these. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, focus on acts of charity by looking for the poorest of the poor, the most needy, and those who are very sick, and caring for their needs. They give up worldly pleasure and live lives of poverty so that they can better care for the poor. I saw a video once of Mother Teresa touring a building they were turning into a convent for her nuns, and she told them to take out the hot water heater because they wouldn’t be needing it. However, you can’t take it all the way to the extreme. Even the Missionaries of Charity begin every day with an hour of adoration of the Eucharist and pray throughout the day.
On the other side there are cloistered orders of nuns and monks, like the Carthusian monks and the Carmelite nuns, who separate themselves from the world to dedicate themselves entirely to prayer. They take a vow of stability, meaning that they will stay in the monastery for the rest of their lives, leaving at the most once or twice a year, and some of them never leaving it at all. They dedicate many hours of their days to prayer, reading the Bible, and spiritual reading. Once again, though, there must be a balance, and they always have some kind of outreach to the surrounding community, often by leading retreats, running a school, or welcoming visitors. St. Joseph Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Covington, has the Pennies for Bread program. The monks bake 2,000 loaves of homemade bread every week and some friends of the Abbey deliver it to charities who distribute it to the poor.
These two aspects of spiritual training, prayer and works of charity, are seen in today’s Gospel through Martha and Mary. Martha gets upset with Mary because she’s not helping her with serving their guests and asks Jesus to tell her to help. Martha represents the active life of works of charity, while Mary represents the life of contemplative prayer. Jesus responds to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”The whole point is to grow closer to Jesus, and so the first, and only truly necessary thing is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. Prayer is the one thing that is necessary because, when it’s done right, prayer leads us closer to Jesus and causes us to grow in love. Prayer leads to charity. If we put the work first, then we’re bound to get it wrong, to mix up our priorities like Martha did.
Prayer helps us to focus on Jesus, to keep our eyes fixed on Him and to listen to His words in the Bible. However, prayer that only stays in the mind isn’t really doing anything, is it? Our prayers should lead us to grow in love, which will make us want to help those around us who are in need, following the example that Jesus set for us. So, I want to challenge everyone to set aside some time every day, even just 15 minutes, as time dedicated to God. Pray the rosary, or read a passage of the Bible, or do some other devotion. For me, the best time to pray is in the morning before I’m distracted by all the business of the day. If I wait until the evening I usually don’t do it at all. However, I do know some people who just aren’t morning people and prefer to pray in the evening, but it does take more willpower to do it that way. But, whenever and however you pray, end your prayer by thinking of one, concrete thing you can do to put that prayer into action that day.
In that way, through both prayer and acts of charity, we can climb the mountain of the Lord and come to rest in His heavenly Temple and, in the words of St. Paul from our second reading, may be presented to God “perfect in Christ Jesus.”
Fr. Bryan Howard
Pentecost – 9 June 2019
Today we wait in anticipation of the gift of the Holy Spirit, even as the apostles spent ten days in prayer in the upper room from the time of the Ascension of the Lord, not sure what they were supposed to do next or how to go about doing it. Then, suddenly, with the sound of a strong driving wind, the Holy Spirit appeared to them as fire, which divided and came to rest on each one of them. From that moment on they fearlessly preached the Gospel, until the Good News of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ has been spread to the entire world. This moment was, in a way, the true birth of the Church.
Just like a human body is given life by its soul, so the Church is like a body, with Christ as the head, us as the members, and the Holy Spirit as the soul. Our head, or more specifically our brain, gives direction to the body, sometimes even without us realizing it. The brain keeps the heart pumping and the various organs functioning, but it also consciously controls the body when we flex a muscle to stand up, sit down, run or walk, etc. Jesus Christ directs the Church in so many ways that we don’t see through His grace and power, but He also directs the Church in ways that are more obvious, through the moral laws that He gave us, through the commands to love God and neighbor, and through setting our destination, heaven, and the direction we need to take to get there, the Way of the Cross.
We are the members of the body, each one with our own role and function within the body of the Church. In Sunday’s second reading, from the letter to the Corinthians, we read, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”No one member of the Church has all of the spiritual gifts that the Church needs to accomplish her mission. We have those who serve the Church through a life of celibacy, and those who serve the Church through bearing and raising children in the faith. Some dedicated to a life of prayer for the Church, and some dedicated to active ministries of serving the poor, teaching, evangelization, administration, liturgy, and much more. All of these gifts and offerings have to be directed towards our common goal, eternal life in heaven with God, and they all have to be united in one Spirit.
I’ve been using the analogy of a body, since that’s the analogy that St. Paul uses, but another good analogy is a factory. I used to think of a factory as a bunch of people each separately doing their individual parts, until I spent a summer working at a printing factory on one of the cutting machines. It took the printers, the cutting machine, and the binders to make a single product, but we weren’t all isolated doing our own thing. We had to actively cooperate with each other for it to come out right. If the printing was slightly off, then I might cut off part of the text, and if the cut is slightly off, then it might not bind properly. The Spirit is what binds the Church together, so that we’re not all doing our own thing but working together to bring all of us to heaven. We may be judged on our own individual actions, but no one is saved as an individual; you are saved as a member of the Church.
The story of the Tower of Babel shows us what happens when we deny the Spirit of God and seek to glorify ourselves instead. They weren’t just building a tower, but a ziggurat, a Temple, but it’s obviously not meant to glorify God but themselves, so God confuses their languages and the people are scattered. This symbolizes human pride. When we seek to glorify ourselves over God and over one another, we aren’t united but torn apart. The way of Jesus is the way of service, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.”If the Tower of Babel confused the languages and scattered the people, then the Holy Spirit at Pentecost overcame the separation of languages and united the people in Christ. After the Apostles received the Spirit, they went out to preach and everyone heard them speaking in their own native language, and 3000 people came to believe in Jesus that day.
In the Church, heresy, denying the teachings of the Church, and schism, denying the authority of the Church, tear the Church apart. And what happens to Christian groups that separate from the Church? They continue to splinter, so that today there are tens of thousands of protestant denominations. The same thing happens in parish Churches. We must not let disagreements between one another pull us apart. Even in our disagreements we can be united in love, and even when we’ve hurt one another we can ask for and give forgiveness. Should we defend the truths of the faith? To our last breaths, but always in love and charity. It’s certainly not easy. In fact, St. Paul says that we are “groaning in labor pains”as we wait for“the redemption of our bodies.”
In just a few moments we’ll experience the Holy Spirit come down and transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We call this Communion, because through it we are filled with the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and are united as one body with Christ. When you receive Communion today, pray for the unity and growth of the universal Church and the continued unity and growth of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
Fr. Bryan Howard
6th Sunday in Easter– Year C – 26 May 2019
Why should we obey God and why should we obey the Church? The second part of that question is the easier part to answer. We should obey the Church because Jesus founded the Church and gave her the authority to teach in His name. The Church doesn’t claim any authority to change the deposit of faith. We can grow in our understanding of the faith, but we can’t change it. The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus when He told St. Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Has the Church made mistakes? Yes, very many. We’ve had Popes, bishops, and priests have given in to every temptation under the sun, but for these 2000 years the Church has protected the deposit of faith that was entrusted to her by the Lord. It has been kept whole an entire not because of the people who make up the Church but because of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have faith in the Church, we have faith in God, and God works through the Church.
That brings us to the real question, “Why should we obey God?” The word obedience comes from the Latin words ob, to, and audire, to listen. So, obedience means “to listen to.” Why would we listen to God? First, because He’s all good and all knowing. It’s in our best interest to listen to God because He wants the best for us and can help us get it. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that true and lasting happiness can’t come from pleasure, wealth, honor, or any worldly good. These always leave us wanting, and often turn against us. Only God can satisfy the longing of our souls.
However, that’s kind of a self serving reason. God wants to bring us past the fear of punishment and hope for reward; He wants to bring us to love. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Really think about what that means. When you’re passionately in love with someone you really pay attention to them when you’re with them. You want to look at them, to listen to their voice and what they’re saying. You want to be with them all the time, and, ultimately, to make your dwelling with them. God is courting us. He’s drawing us into a deeper relationship with Himself. He seeks us out, calls to us, gives us grace and light and life, and invites us to “come and see,” as the Lord told the first disciples.
We each have to make a choice for ourselves, to believe or not to believe, to live the faith or not to live it, to love God or not to love Him. We can’t put off the choice forever. We know that atheists are people who don’t believe in God, and theists are believe who do believe in some sort of God, but agnostics are people who say that there’s not enough evidence to know. They say that they’re just not sure, so they won’t make a decision one way one the other. However, there’s a time limit. There will come a day when we run out of time. It’s like a ship at sea in a heavy fog. There’s a storm rolling in and they need to make it to a safe harbor before it reaches them are the ship will be capsized, but they can’t tell which harbor is there home port. If you wait too long, then that is a decision, and you’ll just have to take your chances. Is there a God or isn’t there? Is there an afterlife or isn’t there? Not making a choice is the same as choosing not to believe.
We have at least two types of evidence to help us to believe. There’s the writings of the great theologians who give us logical reasons and evidence. Then there’s the lives of the saints, who give us an example of the power of the faith. One of these, Pedro Sanz, was born in Asco, Spain in 1680. He went on to join the Dominicans in 1697 and was ordained a priest in 1704 at the young age of 24. He was sent on a missionary journey to the Philippines in 1712 and then to China in 1713, where he would spend the rest of his life. St. Pedro was arrested by anti-Christian forces in 1746. On this day, May 26, 1747, he martyred for the faith and celebrated his heavenly birthday. The viceroy of Peking, one of their captors, wrote about St. Pedro and the other Dominicans held prisoner, “What are we to do with these men? Their lives are certainly irreproachable; even in prison they convert men to their opinions, and their doctrines so seize upon the heart that their adepts fear neither torments nor captivity. They themselves are joyous in their chains. The jailors and their families become their disciples, and those condemned to death embrace their religion. To prolong this state is only to give them the opportunity of increasing the number of Christians.” St. Pedro Sanz’s last words were, “Rejoice with me, my friend; I am going to heaven!”
Fr. Bryan Howard
Divine Mercy Sunday - 28 April 2019
Three sacraments were instituted during Paschal Triduum, the ministerial priesthood, the Eucharist, and Confession. The Eucharist and ministerial priesthood were instituted at the Last Supper, when Jesus showed His disciples what to do and told them to "do this in memory of me." You cannot have one without the other. You need the ministerial priesthood because only a priest can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, which is Christ’s own sacrifice offered to God the Father anew, and you can't have a priesthood with the Mass, because a priest is, by definition, one who offers sacrifices to God on behalf of the people.
In the Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant prays, "Remember, Lord, your servants and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them." Everyone who is gathered at Mass offers a sacrifice to God, and so you are all also priests, through the grace of baptism; it's called the baptismal priesthood or the priesthood of all the faithful. What is the sacrifice that all Christians are called to offer? "The sacrifice of praise:" your joys and sorrows, your works of charity and faith, your prayers of thanks for the graces God has given you and of petition for what you need from God, and the ways in which you glorify God in your life. And what are you offering this sacrifice for? Listen to the rest of the prayer, "for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying their homage to you, the eternal God, living and true."
Baptism is another sacrament that is linked to Easter, since we renew our baptismal promises every Easter, rejecting Satan and His works and empty promises and professing our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why do we do that at Easter? Why not at Christmas or the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord? The word sacrament didn’t always refer to the seven sacraments; originally it referred to the oath that a Roman legionary took upon entering the legion and again, every year, on the anniversary of the ascension of the current emperor. Our emperor, the King of the universe, was raised up in glory on Easter Sunday, and so every Easter we renew our oath to Him, and ask for His help to fulfill it. The baptismal priesthood is found in any Christian who offers up their lives and their deaths for the glory of God and in union with the life and death of Jesus Christ. Are you living out your oath, our baptismal promises, as a soldier for Christ. Our weapons are not swords and spears, but the Word of God and prayer, and our armor is truth, righteousness, and faith. For as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
In battle we may be wounded, and so that leads us to the final sacrament that was instituted during this time, for our heavenly physician has given us a remedy for sin and it’s power over us. “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” Jesus gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins, and they passed this authority down to their successors the bishops, down to today. Every Catholic bishop has apostolic succession, meaning that they can trace their ordination back to the apostles through the laying on of hands, as Archbishop Aymond was consecrated by Archbishop Schulte, who was consecrated by Cardinal Krol, and so on. The bishop then delegates his priests to assist him in this ministry. The power of Confession, as all the sacraments, comes from the Cross. On the Cross Jesus died to forgive our sins, and in the Confessional that forgiveness is made available to us. It doesn’t make sense to leave a wound open and untreated so it can get infected, which, untreated, will end up killing us. Mortal sins kill our relationship with God and wound our souls, and venial sins wound our relationship with God, but enough small wounds can kill just as surely as one grievous wound. In His mercy, God desires not only to forgive our sins but to help us to avoid them in the first place.
In baptism we are commissioned as soldiers for Christ and promise to serve Him faithfully, in the Eucharist we are strengthened for the spiritual combat, and in Confession our wounds are healed. So let us not surrender, but fight for Christ.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.