Every once in a while I like to recommend a book, website, app, or movie, because there’s so much out there now that it can be hard to separate the good from the bad. Today, I want to recommend that you look at the works of Dr. Peter Kreeft. He’s a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has published 95 books, and has given many talks, speeches, and lectures on philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality.
I first encountered Dr. Kreeft when he book, The Summa of the Summa, was assigned in one of my classes in seminary. That’s probably his most well-known book, but he’s also written, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Christianity for Modern Pagans, Fundamentals of the Faith, and Forty Reasons I am a Catholic. His books are good, but I really want to recommend his website, which has sections on Featured Writing and Featured Audio, including payed and free recordings of talks that he’s given at various conferences and events.
Most of all, I want to recommend his talk on “Pro-Life Philosophy” in which he gives the philosophical case against abortion. It’s a very good talk which can help us to defend our pro-life position in a rational way against the arguments of the pro-choice movement. The talk is free on Dr. Kreeft’s website under Featured Audio – More.
This past weekend we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast. Thank you to Archbishop Aymond for giving us permission to move the celebration to Sunday so that more of us could celebrate together. I also want to thank Barker's Dozen and the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary for providing the king cakes for after Mass.
As part of our celebration our large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was moved into the sanctuary in preparation to be moved to her new permanent position. Then, after the 11:00 AM Mass we processed with the statue around the Church and brought it to its new home in our Marian Shrine, where the tabernacle used to be kept.
I hope this new Shrine will help us to grow ever closer to our Blessed Mother and through her to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Fr. Bryan Howard
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 9 February 2020
My Maw Maw, Dad, and Uncle David all love to keep vegetable gardens, and they’re good at it. Uncle David even created a new plant. He planted the cucumbers and squash next to each other and the cross pollinated, so we got squash-cumbers. I, on the other hand, take after my Mom. One year for the science fair I did an experiment where I planted four plants and watered each one with something different, water, coca cola, Kool-Aid, and orange juice. They all died, because plants need a balance of factors to live, and I obviously missed something. Have you ever had one of the plants, like a sunflower, that turns to follow the sun across the sky? You can’t see it moving, but the difference is very noticeable each time you come back to it throughout the day. It’s not choosing to follow the sun, it’s just evolved that way because the sun gives it the energy it needs to live. Of course, they also need rain and nutrients from the soil to live and grow. In order to have a healthy and growing spiritual life, we also need three things, light, food, and water, all of which are provided by Jesus Christ: moral guidelines, the Eucharist, and grace. In our second reading St. Paul says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” because Jesus gives us everything that we need.
Our Gospel today says that we are the “light of the world.” Why? Because Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, and we are Christians, so we reflect His Light. The response for our psalm today was “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” Christ is the only truly Just Man, and He shows us how to walk upright lives by being gracious, merciful, just, and generous, or as the first reading says, “If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”
Morality, or following the law of God is one of the three parts of the spiritual life. The Bible makes it very clear that all of our prayers and offerings to God are useless unless we’re also living a good life. Most of the time what is good and what is bad are very clear to us, but we live in a complicated world at a complicated time, and there are a lot of different people telling us what to do. Jesus Christ is the light to show us which way to go and an example for our own lives, and we can always ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation? What is Jesus telling me to do right now?”
How do we know what Jesus would do or what He’s calling us to do? That’s where the second part of the spiritual life comes it: prayer. Just as a plant needs water to live, so we need God’s grace. St. Theresa of Avila compared our spiritual lives to a garden where we’re trying to grow all manner plants and flowers, which are good works. They need grace from the Holy Spirit to grow. We call down that grace like rain by praying. At times, prayer seems to be very difficult, and it’s like we have to go down to the well and get water one bucket at a time, with a lot of work and sweat. Sometimes, though, it’s as if our prayers come quickly and easily, like God’s letting His grace come down like rain.
Prayer is as simple as having a conversation with Jesus, talking to Him and listening to Him. Through the Rosary, praying with the Bible, having conversations with God, and so many Catholic devotions we slowly come to know Jesus better and better and can thus follow His guidance in our lives, even as the Holy Spirit gives us the grace we need to follow through with our good intentions.
Finally, we also need spiritual nourishment from the Eucharist. If the spiritual life is all about growing closer to our Lord in prayer, so that we can better follow Him in our lives, then the climax of the spiritual life is to receive His very life in Holy Communion. The goal of the spiritual life is to be united with God in heaven, but God knows that we need help along the way. He gave us the Eucharist as a little taste of what’s waiting for us. The Eucharist contains everything that we’ll have in heaven, but it’s hidden under the appearance of bread and wine. Can I be a good person without the Eucharist? Yes. Can I pray without the Eucharist? Yes. However, if I understand that the goal of life is to get to heaven to be united with God for eternity and that God is present right here in the Eucharist. Then, to knowingly and deliberately deny the Eucharist is to deny Christ, but putting the Eucharist at the center of your life is to put Jesus Christ at the center of your life.
Since today is the Solemnity of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast, we should look to the Blessed Mother as our best example, she who is called the solitary boast of our fallen human nature. The Blessed Virgin was always with Christ during His life, from His birth, to His public ministry, to the foot of the Cross, to the Upper Room at His Resurrection, she always pondered His words and the things that He did, and she is still by His side now in heaven. Holy Mother, Our Lady of Lourdes, help us to stay by Christ’s side now, during our lives, that we may always be with Him in the next life.
The level of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary at our parish is very encouraging to me, because that devotion will help keep us close to our Lord Jesus Christ. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary has helped protect the Catholic Church from some of the most dangerous heresies in the history of the Church, even if powerful people supported them and many Christians fell for them. This devotion can also help us and our families stay close to Jesus Christ, stay true to the faith as it’s been handed down to us from the Apostles, and, eventually, be united to God in heaven, because the Blessed Virgin Mary always says to us, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5).
One of these heresies in the early Church was called Nestorianism, taking its name from the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius. Nestorius taught that the Blessed Virgin cannot be called the Mother of God, but only the Mother of Christ, because she was only the mother of the human nature of Jesus and not the mother of His Divine Nature. He was opposed by St. Cyril of Alexandria who taught that Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature, God and man, which are inseparably united in the one person Jesus Christ. So, if Mary is the Mother of the person Jesus Christ, which she clearly is, then she must be the Mother of God, not that she is the source of the Godhead, but that she bore Him in her womb and gave birth to Him. Nestorius, convinced that he was correct, called for the bishops of the Church to gather at the Council of Ephesus to decide. The people gathered outside of the Church where the council was held, and when St. Cyril came out to make the announcement, that Mary is “Theotokos,” Mother of God, they began to celebrate. That Church is now called the Church of the Theotokos.
The great heresy today is Protestantism, and many protestants denigrate Catholics for our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying that giving reverence to Mary is a form of idolatry, and criticize some of the Church’s teachings on Mary, because they rely more on Tradition than on the Bible. Catholics believe that honoring the Mother of God gives honor to God, and that honoring Mary as the greatest follower of Christ, because of her great love for Him, teaches us how to better follow Jesus Christ ourselves. The Rosary is the perfect example of Marian devotion, because as we pray the Rosary we not only ask Mary to pray for us, but we also meditate on the mysteries of the conception, birth, life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, has helped to keep our Catholic family centered on her Son, Jesus Christ, through her prayers and example. We should all ask her to pray for our own families, that we may remain in the one true faith, and dedicate ourselves to her prayer, the Rosary, by praying the family Rosary regularly.
This Tuesday, February 11, is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, our patronal feast, but Archbishop Aymond has allowed us to move the celebration of the Feast to this weekend, so that more parishioners can participate in it. This weekend, let’s ask her to keep our Church family together and focused on Jesus.
This Sunday, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, marks the end of the 40 days of Christmas and is the last feast of the baby Jesus before the beginning of Lent. Our readings today describe the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time, in which the child Jesus is redeemed by presenting or offering Him to God in the Temple and making an offering of five shekels (coins). This was done in remembrance of the Passover, when God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and struck only the houses of the Egyptians, taking the first born sons, which lead to the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt. After that, all Jews present their first born sons to God in thanks for their freedom and the lives of their children.
Today is also a feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, because the Holy Family weren’t at the Temple only for Jesus, but for her as well. The old Testament prescribes that a woman will be ritually unclean for 40 days after giving birth because of the blood that is shed in childbirth. Any shedding of blood causes ritual uncleanness, meaning that you are not allowed to worship in the Temple. After the 40 days they were able to go to the Temple and offer a sacrifice of 2 turtledoves or pigeons for Mary’s purification. Ritual uncleanness was not considered sinfulness or guilt; in fact, touching a dead body caused ritual uncleanness, and yet burying the dead was considered to be an act of mercy. These things make someone unclean because they both have to do with life and death, but God is the source of true life (Lv 17:11).
Traditionally, this is celebrated as Candlemas, because Jesus is the light of the world. Today, Jesus entered the Temple, the House of God, for the first time, showing everyone that the light had entered the world. In Churches we still place candles where God is present: around the Tabernacle, around the altar, and at the ambo when the Gospel is being read. In the same way, we begin the Easter Vigil in darkness, because Christ was crucified on Good Friday and the light of God entered the realm of the dead. The first light to reenter Church on Holy Saturday evening is the Paschal Candle, of the Easter Candle, which represents Jesus, and as the candle is brought up the isle the deacon intones, “The Light of Christ,” and everyone responds, “Thanks be to God,” for the light had reentered with world with the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. At Candlemas we’ll bless the candles that will be used in Church in the coming months, because a Savior has been born for us and He is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).
We’ve recently started offering Mass in Latin here at Our Lady of Lourdes for our monthly First Saturday Mass, which is at 8:00 AM. This is the normal, Novus Ordo, or New Rite, Mass from after Vatican II. It uses the same readings and follows the same calendar as the ordinary Mass the we celebrate; in fact, the readings and homily are also in English. If you want to experience Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as it was celebrated before Vatican II (and I think every Catholic should at least once), it’s celebrated every Sunday at St. Patrick’s Church in New Orleans at 9:15 on Sundays, 7:15 AM on weekdays, and 8 AM on Saturdays. The difference is that all of the prayers are in Latin, and you’ll have Latin and English translations of the prayers side by side to help you follow along. In some ways, it’s just like going to Mass in Spanish or Vietnamese, because you’ll still recognize everything, you just might not understand the language. Since people have asked, this Mass doesn’t count for your Sunday obligation. You can fulfill your Sunday obligation at any Mass on Sunday or after 4:00 PM on Saturday. So, why offer this to the parish?
I celebrated the Mass in Latin regularly at Visitation of Our Lady and Divine Mercy Catholic Churches, and I found out that some people were under the impression that the Church had done away with Latin in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. However, Vatican II actually said, “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. 2. But since the use of the mother tongue… frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down in subsequent chapters” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, para. 36). So, they wanted to allow Mass in the languages of the people while still retaining some Latin. Imagine if every Catholic could still pray at least the Our Father in Latin, then you could pray with a Catholic from anywhere in the world, even if you don’t speak one another’s languages.
Second, in the Roman Churches the Mass has been celebrated in Latin since at least the 4th century. It’s true that there have been changes and developments to the Mass over the centuries, but they kept using Latin. This means that most of the saints celebrated or attended Mass in Latin. This is part of the life of the Church, part of our heritage, and part of history. If you feel like you’re stepping back in time, then that’s a good things. The Mass doesn’t belong to you or me, it’s an inheritance of the entire Church, and when we celebrate Mass we should see that this isn’t an ordinary, normal thing, but that we’re entering the Mystery of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin helps us to see that we don’t fully comprehend everything that’s going on, but that we have to really make an effort to enter into it more fully. This is true of every Mass, no matter what language it’s celebrated in, but we tend to see it more easily when we don’t understand every word that’s being said.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – 19 January 2020
What is the goal of our faith? Someone might say that their goal is to get to heaven, and they would be right. One of the goals of the faith is to get to heaven, and sometimes that motivation and desire to get to heaven is what I need to avoid sin and do good works. The problem with that is that it might lead to doing the bear minimum. What is the least I need to do to get to heaven? When I was in a parish with a school I used to visit the classrooms and let the students ask any questions they had. For the middle school students I used to get a lot of questions about what is and isn’t a sin. They point was to figure out how far they could push before something became a sin, and we all think like that sometimes. We want a clear line. The faith is about building up our relationship with God. When I’m friends with someone should I ask, “What’s the least I can do and still remain their friend?” or “What more can I do to help my friend?”
Another way to answer that question is to say that the goal of our faith is to grow in holiness and to become a saint. That desire to be holy and to be a saint can lead us to strive to grow in virtue, faith, and love and to try to be the best person that I can be. However, if that desire becomes unbalanced it can lead to another distortion in our faith, where we focus on ourselves. How can I be holy? How can I grow in virtue? How can I be a better person? The focus point of our faith should be on God and not so much on ourselves. Yes, I should be trying to grow in virtue and holiness, but not for myself; it’s so I can better love God, my family, and my neighbors.
Another issue is that a lot of people think that they can’t be a saint. This is a very common belief among Christians and Catholics. We think that holiness is only for monks, nuns, priests, deacons, and consecrated people, people who’ve taken vows. We think that we’re not holy if we don’t get emotional or cry when we’re praying. To have an emotional sense of God’s presence in prayer or to be moved to tears during prayer are great gifts, but they are relatively rare and they are not necessary to be holy. They aren’t evidence that we aren’t praying right. St. Paul wrote to Corinthians in our second reading today, “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” Who is it that have been sanctified in Jesus Christ and called to be holy? It’s not only those in Corinth, but “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” including all of us gathered in this Church today.
We have all been given the same Holy Spirit. We have the word of God in the Bible to tell us what’s God’s will is. We have the seven Sacraments and especially the Eucharist to strengthen us to do God’s will in our lives. We have the Christian community, the Church, to support one another in living the faith. Not all of us are called to make the ultimate sacrifice of giving our lives for God in martyrdom, but we are all called to live our lives for God.
The most common Christian prayer is the one that Jesus Christ taught us, the Our Father, or the Lord’s Prayer. In the Our Father we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” That is, give me the grace that I’ll need today, for today’s burdens, to be good and holy today, to bear today’s cross. Today is what I really need to focus on. How can I do a little bit better today than yesterday? What is God asking me to do today? How can show my love for God today? When I took martial arts my teacher used to say that each punch should be better than the one before. Let’s ask God, every morning, to help us to be a little bit holier today, and to grow a little bit closer to God today.
The greatest gift we have in living the faith is the great gift of the Eucharist, our daily bread, which strengthens us in God’s grace. We need to put the Eucharist and to put Christ at the center of our lives. That why, as a parish, we’ve moved the Tabernacle into the center of the Sanctuary, so that Christ is at the center of our parish. You may have noticed that we’ve also turned the celebrant’s and deacon’s chairs so there facing the altar and tabernacle more, because I’m not the most important person here, Jesus is, and we turn towards Jesus in prayer together. As we receive the Eucharist, or, for those who can’t yet receive, make a spiritual communion by asking Jesus to be in our souls, let’s ask God to give us the grace we need to grow in holiness…today.
We refer to the teaching office of the Church, or the Magisterium, as the authority that Jesus Christ gave the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals. That is, the Church speaks in the name of Christ when the bishops, in union with the pope, teach about the faith or about morality. One of the ways that the popes have of using this teaching office is the Apostolic Exhortation. It ranks third in papal documents after the Papal Encyclical, letter addressed to the bishops on a particular Church teaching, and Apostolic Constitution, on Church governance. An Apostolic Exhortation is written to all the members of the Church and is meant to guide them in a particular area of the faith.
In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II wrote an exhortation on “The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” called Familiaris Consortio. In his own words, Pope St. John Paul II wrote this exhortation because, “the Church wishes to speak and offer her help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives.” In part one, the Pope talked about the hopeful signs and challenges facing the family. Among the hopeful signs, he includes greater personal freedom, more attention to the quality of relationships, the promotion of the dignity of women, advances in education, etc. Among the challenges he mentions, among other things, the difficulty in transmitting fundamental values to younger generations, the growing number of divorces, and the scourge of abortion.
The second part is called, “The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family.” This is a very beautiful explanation on God’s plan for the family going all the way back to the account of the creation of the world in Genesis and the first marriage, of Adam and Eve, and tracing the Biblical teaching on marriage to the teaching of Jesus. The third part is on “The Role of the Christian Family,” and is significantly longer the part two. He divides it into four sections: forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church.
Although the entire document is more of a small book, the part on God’s plan for marriage is only a few pages long, and is well worth reading, even if you don’t read any of the rest of it. In fact, I always have the couples that I prepare for marriage read that section. Sometimes people need to read it several times to make sense of it, because Pope St. John Paul II packs a lot of meaning into those few pages, but it’s worth the effort. I’ll include a link to a free English translation of it when I post this to the Pastor’s Blog on our website, www.olol-church.com.
Fr. Bryan Howard
The Baptism of the Lord – 12 January 2020
The ancient Greeks had a mythical story about Prometheus. Prometheus was a Titan, but feeling sorry for humanity, he stole fire from the god Hephaestus and gave it to us. The fire symbolized life, science and philosophy, and power. Zeus punished Prometheus for giving this gift to humanity by chaining him to a rock and having an Eagle attack him every day and letting him heal every night. He punished humanity by unleashing toil, illness, war, and death, forever separating humanity from the gods. The Greeks, like most pagan cultures, thought that there was competition between the gods and humanity, and they tried to placate the gods and win their favor by making offerings, sacrifices, and gifts to them.
The ancient Israelites, and Christians following them, see God in a different light. God created us from nothing and breathed life into us not because He needed anything from us, but because He wanted to share His own life with us. Then, He continued to poor out His gifts and graces on us, every day. He even gave us the law to show us how to live good lives. However, every time we sin, we reject God and His place in our lives. At the heart of every sin, from the smallest venial sin to the worst mortal sin, is a little voice inside us saying, “I know better than God. I can decide what’s right and wrong for myself.” Through sin we alienated ourselves from God, we rejected His love, grace, and friendship, and we had no way to win it back for ourselves.
If the Greeks believed that Zeus punished Prometheus for giving humanity fire, then Christians believe that God Himself, Jesus Christ the Son of God, came down to bring us the light of truth and to restore us to the friendship of God. Remember that Jesus said, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing,” and St. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
When Jesus began His public ministry He was already almost 30 years old. Notice what John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” He realized that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized because Jesus had never sinned. He had nothing to repent. He didn’t need to be restored to grace, because He is the source of all grace. Jesus told him, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” In other words, this had to happen; it was part of God’s plan. Then, after Jesus was baptized, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit of God descended on Him, and God the Father spoke, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” That didn’t happen for Jesus, that all happened for us, to show us what happens in baptism. The waters of baptism didn’t sanctify Jesus, Jesus sanctified the water, so that the water could then sanctify us in our baptisms.
When we are baptized, what happened visibly at Jesus’ baptism happens invisibly in our souls. The Holy Spirit floods into our souls, filling us with God’s grace and giving us the life of the Spirit of God. It forgives all of our sins and unites us to Jesus Christ. We become, like Jesus, children of God, sons and daughters of God with whom God is well pleased.
After His baptism, what did Jesus do? First, to prepare Himself, He spent 40 days in the desert fasting and praying. Then, He began His public ministry, doing great miracles and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He finished by showing us what the Christian life is all about, but offering His life for ours on the Cross as a total gift of love.
We, too, have been baptized. We’ve received the Spirit of God, the grace and life of the Holy Spirit. We’ve become children of God. But do we live like it? Do our words and actions reflect the love of God to the people around us? We get caught up in our own problems, we judge one another, we try to get back at one another, and we begin to hate one another, or brothers and sisters in Christ, because we follow a different religion, vote for a different party, or have a different color skin. The big thing these last few years has been tolerance. We should be tolerant of different ideas, different people, different lifestyles. On the contrary, Jesus didn’t tell us to tolerate one another. He didn’t give the commandment to be nice to one another. He said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and to love even our enemies and pray for them.
Let’s recommit ourselves to following Jesus Christ and to doing what He did. In your words and in your actions, proclaim the Kingdom of God. Share your love of God with others. Don’t hesitate to stand with Christ, even if that means that some people will reject you. Some people rejected Christ, and when we follow Him some people will reject us, too. Don’t fall into the temptation to right them off, to reject them back. Continue to pray for them and treat them with love and compassion.
Christianity is revolutionary because we see that we don’t have to be in competition with God, as if God is up there with a grading sheet for each one of us, just waiting for us to do something wrong so He can condemn us to hell. No, God is constantly giving us little graces, little reminders, little nudges to help us live life to the full so we won’t be weighed down with sin, bitterness, and hatred, but will be free to live in the light.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.