Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 19 January 2020
What is the goal of our faith? Someone might say that their goal is to get to heaven, and they would be right. One of the goals of the faith is to get to heaven, and sometimes that motivation and desire to get to heaven is what I need to avoid sin and do good works. The problem with that is that it might lead to doing the bear minimum. What is the least I need to do to get to heaven? When I was in a parish with a school I used to visit the classrooms and let the students ask any questions they had. For the middle school students I used to get a lot of questions about what is and isn’t a sin. They point was to figure out how far they could push before something became a sin, and we all think like that sometimes. We want a clear line. The faith is about building up our relationship with God. When I’m friends with someone should I ask, “What’s the least I can do and still remain their friend?” or “What more can I do to help my friend?”
Another way to answer that question is to say that the goal of our faith is to grow in holiness and to become a saint. That desire to be holy and to be a saint can lead us to strive to grow in virtue, faith, and love and to try to be the best person that I can be. However, if that desire becomes unbalanced it can lead to another distortion in our faith, where we focus on ourselves. How can I be holy? How can I grow in virtue? How can I be a better person? The focus point of our faith should be on God and not so much on ourselves. Yes, I should be trying to grow in virtue and holiness, but not for myself; it’s so I can better love God, my family, and my neighbors.
Another issue is that a lot of people think that they can’t be a saint. This is a very common belief among Christians and Catholics. We think that holiness is only for monks, nuns, priests, deacons, and consecrated people, people who’ve taken vows. We think that we’re not holy if we don’t get emotional or cry when we’re praying. To have an emotional sense of God’s presence in prayer or to be moved to tears during prayer are great gifts, but they are relatively rare and they are not necessary to be holy. They aren’t evidence that we aren’t praying right. St. Paul wrote to Corinthians in our second reading today, “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Who is it that have been sanctified in Jesus Christ and called to be holy? It’s not only those in Corinth, but “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” including all of us gathered in this Church today.
We have all been given the same Holy Spirit. We have the word of God in the Bible to tell us what’s God’s will is. We have the seven Sacraments and especially the Eucharist to strengthen us to do God’s will in our lives. We have the Christian community, the Church, to support one another in living the faith. Not all of us are called to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving our lives for God in martyrdom, but we are all called to live our lives for God.
The most common Christian prayer is the one that Jesus Christ taught us, the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. In the Our Father we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” That is, give me the grace that I’ll need today, for today’s burdens, to be good and holy today, to bear today’s cross. Today is what I really need to focus on. How can I do a little bit better today than yesterday? What is God asking me to do today? How can show my love for God today? When I took martial arts my teacher used to say that each punch should be better than the one before. Let’s ask God, every morning, to help us to be a little bit holier today, and to grow a little bit closer to God today.
The greatest gift we have in living the faith is the great gift of the Eucharist, our daily bread, which strengthens us in God’s grace. We need to put the Eucharist and to put Christ at the center of our lives. That why, as a parish, we’ve moved the Tabernacle into the center of the Sanctuary, so that Christ is at the center of our parish. You may have noticed that we’ve also turned the celebrant’s and deacon’s chairs so there facing the altar and tabernacle more, because I’m not the most important person here, Jesus is, and we turn towards Jesus in prayer together. As we receive the Eucharist, or, for those who can’t yet receive, make a spiritual communion by asking Jesus to be in our souls, let’s ask God to give us the grace we need to grow in holiness…today.
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Baptism of the Lord – 12 January 2020
The ancient Greeks had a mythical story about Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan, but feeling sorry for humanity, he stole fire from the god Hephaestus and gave it to us. The fire symbolized life, science and philosophy, and power. Zeus punished Prometheus for giving this gift to humanity by chaining him to a rock and having an Eagle attack him every day and letting him heal every night. He punished humanity by unleashing toil, illness, war, and death, forever separating humanity from the gods. The Greeks, like most pagan cultures, thought that there was competition between the gods and humanity, and they tried to placate the gods and win their favor by making offerings, sacrifices, and gifts to them.
The ancient Israelites, and Christians following them, see God in a different light. God created us from nothing and breathed life into us not because He needed anything from us, but because He wanted to share His own life with us. Then, He continued to poor out His gifts and graces on us, every day. He even gave us the law to show us how to live good lives. However, every time we sin, we reject God and His place in our lives. At the heart of every sin, from the smallest venial sin to the worst mortal sin, is a little voice inside us saying, “I know better than God. I can decide what’s right and wrong for myself.” Through sin we alienated ourselves from God, we rejected His love, grace, and friendship, and we had no way to win it back for ourselves.
If the Greeks believed that Zeus punished Prometheus for giving humanity fire, then Christians believe that God Himself, Jesus Christ the Son of God, came down to bring us the light of truth and to restore us to the friendship of God. Remember that Jesus said, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing,” and St. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
When Jesus began His public ministry He was already almost 30 years old. Notice what John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” He realized that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized because Jesus had never sinned. He had nothing to repent. He didn’t need to be restored to grace, because He is the source of all grace. Jesus told him, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, this had to happen; it was part of God’s plan. Then, after Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit of God descended on Him, and God the Father spoke, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” That didn’t happen for Jesus, that all happened for us, to show us what happens in baptism. The waters of baptism didn’t sanctify Jesus, Jesus sanctified the water, so that the water could then sanctify us in our baptisms.
When we are baptized, what happened visibly at Jesus’ baptism happens invisibly in our souls. The Holy Spirit floods into our souls, filling us with God’s grace and giving us the life of the Spirit of God. It forgives all of our sins and unites us to Jesus Christ. We become, like Jesus, children of God, sons and daughters of God with whom God is well pleased.
After His baptism, what did Jesus do? First, to prepare Himself, He spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Then, He began His public ministry, doing great miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He finished by showing us what the Christian life is all about, but offering His life for ours on the Cross as a total gift of love.
We, too, have been baptized. We’ve received the Spirit of God, the grace and life of the Holy Spirit. We’ve become children of God. But do we live like it? Do our words and actions reflect the love of God to the people around us? We get caught up in our own problems, we judge one another, we try to get back at one another, and we begin to hate one another, or brothers and sisters in Christ, because we follow a different religion, vote for a different party, or have a different color skin. The big thing these last few years has been tolerance. We should be tolerant of different ideas, different people, different lifestyles. On the contrary, Jesus didn’t tell us to tolerate one another. He didn’t give the commandment to be nice to one another. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and to love even our enemies and pray for them.
Let’s recommit ourselves to following Jesus Christ and to doing what He did. In your words and in your actions, proclaim the Kingdom of God. Share your love of God with others. Don’t hesitate to stand with Christ, even if that means that some people will reject you. Some people rejected Christ, and when we follow Him some people will reject us, too. Don’t fall into the temptation to right them off, to reject them back. Continue to pray for them and treat them with love and compassion.
Christianity is revolutionary because we see that we don’t have to be in competition with God, as if God is up there with a grading sheet for each one of us, just waiting for us to do something wrong so He can condemn us to hell. No, God is constantly giving us little graces, little reminders, little nudges to help us live life to the full so we won’t be weighed down with sin, bitterness, and hatred, but will be free to live in the light.
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2019
About 2,021 years ago our Lord Jesus Christ was born. God became man when Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, and on December 25 we celebrate His birth. The Bible doesn’t actually tell us the date of His birth, and modern experts disagree. Some think He was probably born around October and others think it was probably in the Spring. However, the earliest Christians, the ones close to when Jesus actually lived, celebrated Christmas either on January 6, in the Greek dominated Churches, or on December 25, in the Roman dominated Churches, but why pick one day when we can celebrate for the entire 12 days in between; hence the “12 Days of Christmas.”
While the rest of the country is starting their after Christmas sales and radio stations are going back to the normal programming, Catholics are just starting to celebrate Christmas. I don’t know about you, but by the time we get to Christmas I’m about done. So, why don’t we take these 12 days to shift our focus away from presents and parties towards the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings to us. When the angels appeared to the shepherds they said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
When we hear that quote we tend to think of Christmas pageants and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, but this was a world shaking event. This was revolutionary; a challenge to the powers that be. Anyone could have told you that the King of the World lives in Rome and his name is Augustus Caesar. Caesar is the one who was called “lord,” but now that title is being applied to Jesus Christ. When Caesar won a victory in battle they would send out messengers to all of the major cities with the good news, or evangelion, of the victory, and now the angel in saying that the true evangelion is the good news of the birth of Jesus. Caesar could call on the Roman Legions which, at their height numbered in the hundreds of thousands of highly trained professional soldiers, but Jesus has a “heavenly host” or heavenly army of angels who come not to destroy and kill but to sing praises, saying “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
If you think this is just pious exaggeration, remember what Jesus said to St. Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane. When they came to arrest him, St. Peter drew his sword and cut off one of their ears, and Jesus told him, “Put you sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. DO you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” Then, when Pontius Pilate wanted to release Jesus, the Jewish officials said, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” That’s why Pilate handed Jesus over to them, and why they put a sign on His Cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Jesus was born to institute a new kind of kingdom. The Kingdom of God doesn’t grow through armies or espionage or economic warfare. It grows through faith and love. There were times when Christian Europe tried to spread the faith with the sword, and it inevitably failed. The early Christians said that the seed of the faith is watered by the blood of martyrs, so we revere saints like the Roman martyrs who died in the Colosseum, the Japanese martyrs, the Korean martyrs, and the North American martyrs. We also revere saints who dedicate their lives to the service of the most needy, like Mother Theresa of Calcutta or St. Damien of Molokai, who was priest to the leper colony at Molokai and eventually contracted leprosy himself. We also revere those saints who dedicate themselves to their families, like Sts. Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux.
To be great in the kingdom of God it is not necessary to be born into a noble family, rich, famous, or successful. It takes much more than that. We must recognize the great gift of salvation that our Lord came to give us, the great love that He showed us in the Cross, and strive to live it out every day of our lives. The Lord is still with us in the Eucharist, in our families, in our whatever place where people gather in God’s name, in the poor, and in one another. One of my teachers in seminary, Fr. Michael Chapagne, used to say that prayer is simply to look at Jesus, to look at myself, and then to make an adjustment. This Christmas season, let’s try to reflect on the birth of Jesus and His life, how He challenges us to put love of God and neighbor first in our lives, and try to live like Christ a little bit more each day by showing one another a little bit more kindness, patience, generosity, forgiveness, and compassion.
Fr. Bryan Howard
4th Sunday of Advent – Year A – 22 December 2019
In 2005 researchers from the University of North Carolina published the results of 3,000 interviews with teenagers and young adults. They found that most of them believed that God exists and that He created the universe and ordered it and that He created human life and watches over us. They believe that God wants people to be nice to each other, to treat one another fairly, and to be tolerant, and that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself. However, they also believe that God doesn’t really get involved in our lives except when He’s needed to fix something. I’m not here to belittle anyone who thinks that way; some of the members of my own immediate family fall into that category. I do, however, want people to understand that God is far more than just the creator, that morality is far more than just being nice to people, and that God isn’t content to just sit back and watch until we need Him. All of these points can be answered in just one word: Love. God is love, and He created the universe and us in order to share His love with us. God wants us to love one another as He loves us, and, because He loves us, He wants to be with us.
Our first readings today, from the prophet Isaiah, prophecies that the Messiah would have the name Emmanuel. How can Jesus, then, be the Messiah. He doesn’t seem to fit that prophecy. Our Gospel, however, points out that the word, “Emmanuel,” means “God is with us.” Jesus fulfills this prophecy not by being named Emmanuel but by actually being God with us. In the person of Jesus God shows His love for us by uniting a human nature, the man Jesus, to Himself in one person. The person Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, not a mix of both like some Greek demi-god, or a human being possessed by God, but a true unity.
However, God isn’t content to unite just one human being to Himself. In Jesus Christ we can all be united to God. On the Cross, Jesus Christ showed us the depths of God’s love for us by suffering and dying for us. In the Resurrection He offered all of us new life. In the person of Jesus, God showed His love to the world, but only the people living in that time in the area of Palestine would have even had the opportunity to see Him, let alone believe in Him and follow Him. Therefore, Jesus gave His Church the gift of the Eucharist. Just as Jesus Christ was God incarnate, which literally means “in the flesh,” so the Eucharist is God incarnate, the real presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the Eucharist humanity and divinity, man and God, meet through the flesh of Jesus. We play this out in every Mass. The sanctuary represents heaven, the nave, where the people sit, represents earth. After the Eucharistic Prayer we meet at the middle point to receive the Holy Communion. At that point heaven comes down to earth and earth rises up to meet her Christ. The Eucharist contains all the love of God, and is enough to make someone a saint from receiving it just once, if they place all their faith in God.
Once we have received the grace, friendship, and love that God is offering us in the Eucharist we must allow God to start to transform us form the inside out. God isn’t content with us being nice to people; He wants to make us able to love as He loves and truly take up our crosses every day and follow after Christ. Sometimes that means swallowing my pride and admitting that I’ve messed up, apologizing, and doing my best to make things right. It might mean coming to see Jesus in someone that’s particularly hard for us to get along with. Maybe it means giving up something that I love because I’ve realized that it’s hurting someone else. It could mean paying attention to someone else when all I want to do is sit back and recuperate after a long day, or recognizing that someone needs some space even though I really want to talk to them. In so many little ways, from taking out the trash without being asked to the greatest sacrifices of the martyrs, we love like Christ, by doing what He did, being with others and sacrificing for their good.
In every family the home needs to become a school of love where we can experience the unconditional love of others and learn to give that love ourselves. Sometimes our family members are the hardest people to get along with, but we also have the greatest responsibility to them. May we all look to Christ to see an example of love, receive the strength we need in the Eucharist, and then, in our turn, become examples of love to the people around us, starting with our families but not stopping there.
Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday of Advent – Year A – 15 December 2019
St. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, is the one who first noticed the Jesus is the Messiah. He had the mission to prepare the people for the Messiah and to point Him out when He came, and he accomplished his mission. However, by this point St. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by King Herod for questioning the legality and morality of his marriage. So, St. John is at a low point in his life and he’s beginning to doubt himself. Is Jesus really the Messiah? Did I get it right? Is the Kingdom of God coming? He sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He’s really the Messiah, the Christ? Jesus tells them to look at what He’s doing: giving sight to the blind, healing the crippled, cleansing lepers, making the deaf hear, raising the dead, and proclaiming the good news to the poor. He’s doing all of the things that the Messiah was prophesied to do, and He’s letting His actions speak for Him.
Actions always speak louder than words. It’s one thing to say that you love someone, and it’s another to put their needs ahead of your own, or valuing bravery verses risking your life for a worthy cause, or saying that generosity is important verses making a real sacrifice to help the needy. The prophets of the Old Testament understand that merely proclaiming the Word of God wasn’t enough, they lived out their prophesies. That’s what St. John the Baptist was doing. He lived in the desert, wore camel hair clothes, and lived on locusts and honey. This was a dramatic way of asking people if God was more important to them than comfort, honor, wealth, and luxury. Are we ever tempted to put aside our honesty to get ahead at work, or will we sacrifice worldly success to build up treasure in heaven? Are we willing to put aside our faith because we think people will think we’re strange or crazy? Are we willing to put aside our morality so we can hang out with certain people, the cool crowd? Now, let me be clear, money, honor, comfort, and success are all good things. Accomplishing things in life is good. Providing a good life for your family is good. But they’re only good in the context of a good, moral life. It’s the single minded pursuit of them and willingness to sacrifice our principles for them that is immoral. By giving them up entirely, St. John the Baptist was saying, in a dramatic way, that God must be first in our lives and that we should be willing to give everything else for Him.
We don’t usually think of it like that, but marriage is another way of living out a prophetic life. Catholics consider marriage to be a sacrament. Sacraments are visible signs of invisible graces. For example, the water of baptism symbolizes the effect that baptism has on the soul of giving spiritual life and spiritual cleansing. So in marriage the love of husband and wife for one another and for their children represent the love that God has for us. It’s hard for us to imagine the kind of love that God has for us because we don’t actually have any experience with it. The Bible compares it to the love of a spouse or a parent because that is the closest thing we have to it in this life, and yet, we’re only human, so we make mistakes and fail to show our love for one another. We show love or feel love, but God is love.
St. Augustine wrote about the three goods of marriage, and these are what the bride and groom promise to one another in the marriage vows: fidelity, indissolubility, and fruitfulness. The bride and groom promise to be faithful in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, and for richer or poorer. It’s easy to be faithful in good times and health, and for better and richer. What they’re really promising is fidelity in bad times, in sickness, for worse, and for poorer. God’s faithfulness is one of the primary ways that God is described in the Old Testament. He is faithful to Israel even when they sin against Him by worshiping false gods, breaking His laws, and taking advantage of the most helpless in society. When they forsake Him He allows them to go, even when it results in destruction, but He always forgives them and brings them back. He keeps sending them prophets to call them to repentance, and He eventually sends even His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die for them and for us.
The bride and groom promise to be faithful “until death do us part,” or “all the days of my life.” That’s a poetic way of saying that they are promising to love each other without limit. They give themselves to one another in every aspect of life and for their entire life. That’s what the Eucharist is for us. In Jesus Christ, God has given Himself to us. He even suffered and died for us, and He continues to give Himself to us in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity. Husband and wife promise that their love for one another doesn’t depend on they’re emotions, which can change, but that they will continue to place one another’s needs ahead of their own. It’s not just hard, it’s humanly impossible, so we go before God and ask for His help.
Finally, marriage is fruitful. Love always wants to spread, to grow, and to give life. After all, even though God has everything that He needs in the Trinity, He created the universe and gave us life in order to share His life and His love with us. The most obvious way this is shown in marriage is having children, who are a living expression of their love for one another, but it’s also shown in those who adopt children or reach out in love to those around them in so many different ways. The very witness of their love and care for one another is one of the greatest gifts they can give.
I’ve been focusing on marriage because it’s so important and families are under so much stress, but we are all, as Christians, called to be witnesses of love to one another, to live in a prophetic way, and to bring God into people’s lives. We’re each called to do that in our own way, but in this Mass let’s ask God to give us grace and strength through the Eucharist, the great sign of His love for us, so we can go out and be better witnesses to that love in how we treat one another.
Fr. Bryan Howard
1st Sunday of Advent – Year A – 1 December 2019
It’s been my practice since I started as pastor here to do a sort of financial assessment of the parish every September, where we go over the budget and talk about our plans for the future and what the Church needs to accomplish them. I was convicted recently that there is something more important than our financial condition, our spiritual condition. How are we doing as a parish and as a Church in our relationship with God and in our relationships with one another. What better time to ask that question than the First Sunday of Advent, when we begin to prepare for the birth of Jesus.
It’s dangerous to but too much stock in numbers, because there’s more to the health of the Church than how many people go to Mass, but we certainly want more people going to Mass and approaching the Sacraments. So, how is the Catholic Church doing? According to CARA, a Catholic research agengy, from 2000 to 2018, the US Catholic population increased by almost 9 million people, to 68.7 m. In 2018, there were 380,000 fewer infants baptized, over 70,000 fewer confirmations, over 200,000 fewer first Communions, over 100,000 fewer Catholic marriages, and the number of Catholic who attend Mass every Sunday dropped from 30% to 21%.
We know that the Church is struggling in the US, but how are we doing as a parish? In the past few years, the number of baptisms and funerals we’re doing has gone up, as well as weekday Mass attendance. We’ve instituted Bible Studies and have about 2 dozen people participating. We’ve stayed about the same on the number of weddings, only one each year I’ve been here. The best indication of the spiritual health of a parish, however, is to look at Sunday Mass attendance and the number of people going to confession. I would say that the number of people going to confession is about the same, or maybe a little bit higher, than when I started here, although we obviously don’t keep a count of that. The number of people going to Mass on Sundays, however, has definitely gone down. We always get over 500 people for Christmas and Easter and over 400 people for Ash Wednesday, but we’re averaging about 350 for a regular weekend where just a few years ago we averaged over 380.
Now, I don’t think that the Catholic Church is in danger of dying out; there are many places in the world where the Church is growing exponentially, like some parts of Africa and Asia. So, why is this happening here? Well, the clergy abuse scandal certainly plays a part. The bishops and priests who committed those atrocities forgot or ignored their responsibility to shepherd God’s people and many people stopped trusting the Church, and who could blame them. However, that doesn’t explain everything. The news broke in about 2002, but the decline in Mass attendance can be traced back to the 1970’s.
I think another reason for the decline is the cultural change that started in the 1960’s. As peoples’ morality and lifestyles changed and things that the Church considers to be grave sin began to be seen as normal, people began to label the Church as intolerant. When people identify something as part of their character or their right, then calling it a sin can seem like an attack on them as a person. The Church has a responsibility to preach the truth, but we all know that it can be very hard to hear the truth.
That’s a lot of bad news, but there’s also a lot of Good News. Remember what Mother Teresa said, “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.” In other words, our part is to follow the Gospel, to live the faith, and to love like Christ. God is the One who brings success or failure. If we are faithful, and seem to fail, then we should look to the Cross. Christ seemed to have failed when He was nailed to the Cross, but through the sign of the Cross the Gospel has spread to every continent.
Today, I want all of us to renew our commitment to God, to be renewed in the faith and in the grace of God. Moving forward, we will be focusing on renewing ourselves in the faith through a focus on the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Matrimony. Let’s put the Eucharist at the center of our Church family and at the center of our families at home. The best way we can evangelize our community is to live out the faith with joy. Joy is contagious and addictive. When we see someone who is full of joy we want to be close to them and that gives us an opportunity to share the faith simply by living it out in a radical way. I see the mission of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church as helping your family to live out the faith and put Christ at the center of our homes and lives. As part of our focus on the Eucharist, we already have opportunities for Adoration every first Wednesday and every Friday morning. As part of our focus on the Family, we are working on starting youth ministry as well as more opportunities for Marriage Enrichment. We also want everyone to know that families and children are always welcome at every parish Mass and parish event, and if the topics being talked about are too mature for certain ages we’ll make that clear in advance.
Finally, this parish is already very committed to our patron saint, Our Lady of Lourdes, and we want to ask her to continue to pray for and bless our parish and our families. So, we’re going to be adding a Mass the First Saturday of every month which will be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ll be available for confession half an hour before Mass and we’ll pray a Marian devotion or prayer after Mass. The Mass will be the ordinary (Novus Ordo) Mass that we’re used to, but all the prayers will be in Latin while the readings and homily will be in English. This will give us an opportunity to experience Mass in the language that the Church used for over one and a half millennia, and the language that most Catholics and most of the saints heard Mass in.
Lord God, we ask you to bless our parish, our community, and our families. Renew us in the faith and in your grace through the Sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony, that we might all grow closer to you as one family in Christ. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Fr. Bryan Howard
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 17 November 2019
There are a lot of movies and books about the apocalypse or the end of the world, like “The Walking Dead,” “Left Behind,” and “Avengers: End Game,” now the highest grossing movie of all time, not adjusted for inflation. Our culture is fascinated with the apocalypse or the end of the world, but as Catholics we don’t really talk about it all that much. We typically prefer to talk about more positive sounding things, life in Christ, prayer, faith, hope, and love, and heaven, but it’s good to think about the last things sometimes, too. In his “Rule for Monks” St. Benedict writes, “Keep death ever before your eyes.” This advice wasn’t meant to be morbid; in fact, he included it in his list of “Instruments of Good Works.” It’s meant to remind us that heaven is our goal and we get there by staying close to Christ and following Him here on earth. So, let’s talk about some common myths about the Second Coming and the Catholic answer to them.
Myth # 1: We’ll know when it’s coming. Despite the many times that people have tried to predict the end of the world, Jesus Himself said that we won’t know when it’s coming. It true that He gave us signs to look for, including war, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and “mighty signs in the sky,” but when has there been a time in human history when these things weren’t happening? There are always wars, natural disasters, solar eclipses and things like that. The whole point is that we should always be ready to go, but we never know when our last moment will be. Make sure your family know that you love them, don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today, and avoid mortal sins like the plague.
Myth # 2: Jesus will come to establish a thousand year kingdom. This is the idea that, as one person put it, “Jesus promised the Kingdom of God, but all He left us was the Church.” Some people believe that Jesus will come again to establish a Kingdom on earth for 1,000 years before the final end of the world. However, Jesus never intended to establish the kind of earthly kingdom that they’re thinking about, but rather a kingdom of service and of prayer. We come together in Mass to pray, then we go out to spread the Kingdom of God through acts of love for one another. At the end of time, when Jesus Christ comes in glory, some will be resurrected to eternal life in Christ, and others to eternal death in hell. On that day, we’ll realize that the Kingdom of God was in the palm of our hands all along, and all we had to do was reach out and accept what God has been trying to give us.
Myth # 3: We will be like the angels in heaven. This one is based off on an actual quote from the Bible. We often imagine that, when we die, we’ll be like angels with wings and harps floating on little clouds. I’m sorry to burst your bubbles if you were looking forward to that, but we won’t be angels, we’ll still be human. God made us as humans, and God wants us to be humans, even when we’re glorified in heaven. We will have glorified bodies, but they will still be our own, human glorified bodies. How will God unite all of the dead back with their bodies? I don’t have any idea, but if anyone can do it, it’s probably God. Besides, I’m still holding out hope that we’ll be able to fly anyway, even without angel wings.
Myth # 4: I’ll be judged again at the Second Coming. In Catholic theology, we speak of two judgements. Our personal judgement happens at the moment of our death, when we have to answer for our lives, as St. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” This is where we will either go to heaven or hell or purgatory, and if you get to purgatory you will eventually make it to heaven, but you should definitely not shoot for purgatory. That’s like trying to get the lowest passing grade on a test, “If I just get a D- I’ll be fine.” If you aim for that and fall just short, that’s it, game over, but if you try to be a saint, then, even if you fall short you’ll probably still make it at least into purgatory. At the end of time there is a general judgement, where all the souls are divided into sheep and goats, as Jesus describes in Matthew 25. You won’t learn any new at the general judgement that you didn’t find out at your personal judgement.
In the psalm, we sang, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice,” and we often talk about the Law of God,” meaning the moral law, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ New Commandment of Love. We sometimes think of the Laws of Nature, like the Law of Gravity, as hard and fast rules that can’t be broken, and if you try to break them you’ll pay the price. If you think you can break the law of gravity, it may end up breaking several of your bones. Then, we think of the moral Law of God as being soft and malleable, so we feel safe in breaking it. We may not pay a price immediately, but we will pay one eventually. Broken bones are easy to heal compared with broken lives and broken relationships. Instead of trying to see how much we can get away with, let’s try to see just how saintly we can become.
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 became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.