Audio Available!

Audio Available!
Be sure to check out in each blog post the links to the audio recordings of my homilies. They are at the beginning of each post! Also, look to the right for links to Audio from other good resources!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Homily 12-30-2012 Our Holy Families


 When we celebrate the Holy Family of Nazareth, we meet them first in Bethlehem. This is why it is so appropriate to have this Solemnity today and not some other time of the year: because when God decided to become a member of the human family, he took a human mother, Mary, and a foster father, Joseph, and thus Himself experienced the ups and downs of family life and the subordination of being a child below one's parents. Because of this, God knew what it was like to obey imperfect creatures other than the Father. Let this be a reminder for all you children out there (regardless of your age): whenever we want to dismiss our parents, we should recall that we can't possibly be in a better position than the obedient Son of God, who had every reason to disregard His parents and do things His own way because “He knew better,” but He still obeyed them, so should do our best to fulfill the fourth commandment, except when it means to directly disobey God. If we do this, Sirach offers quite a list of promises for obedience to parents: Atonement from sin. Preservation from sin. Prayers heard. Stores up riches. Long life. Comfort to mother. House raised in justice against the debt of your sins.
Why do we call this family “holy”? This unique trio of Bethlehem and Nazareth, these three persons which were able to bring such abundant blessing to the entire human family regardless of the separation of time and place, is not “holy” by default. Our first instinct is wrong: having Jesus in your family doesn't make it a holy family. Every single Christian family has, by its very nature, Jesus present within the family because of their baptism. However, many parts of our family life can fail to be holy. So what makes us Holy? What makes these three holy? It is that we seek to carry out the Will of the Father by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, all through, with, and in the Son. In fact, the more we are devoted to the Father's Will, the better off the family is.
This makes more sense to us when we think of the contrast. Of course the possibilities are endless, but let us imagine a family where every person has a different goal in life: money, success, fame, absence of pain... you name it. Obviously this would cause the family to run in different and ultimately contrary directions, leading to misunderstanding, and potential distaste or even disdain for each other. Since God who is the triple-holy “Lord, God of Hosts” shows us that holiness is a communion of persons, the last word to be able to describe this fragmented family would be “holy.”
However, if there is a family where everyone is devoted to God's Will above all else, they could be homeless (financial failures), fugitives from the government, misunderstood and mocked by all their neighbors (social shame), and even perhaps publicly executed (all kinds of suffering), and still be a holy family. That is indeed what we find in the Holy Family, who by God's Will fled to Egypt, were rejected by their local townies, and later on were met with crucifixion. Although it may mean suffering, going against the current, or distress, the holiness that comes from following God's Will outweighs all of this: as St. Paul says, “the sufferings of this present life are as nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed in us” on the day of Jesus Christ, that is, the Resurrection from the Dead.
What is God's Will for you? That you receive His Son, that you treasure His Son, that you follow, listen to, and obey His Son. Mary and Joseph, in their own unrepeatable way, did exactly this. Look at any artwork of the Holy Family and you will see them doing all these things, not to mention showing and sharing their Son with the world.  God is calling you to know Christ and his cross as the center of your life, and thus find the source of blessings that the world cannot offer: deep peace, everlasting joy, and the holiness that sanctifies ourselves, our families, and our world. Mary and Joseph lived entirely for the Savior. May we do the same, and sanctify the world by our holy families.

Monday, December 24, 2012

12-25-2012 Surprises in a Cave


Christmas forces us to rethink things, to reconsider the most basic things. Maybe what makes it so amazing is how simple the story is, even though it has its paradoxes.
One of my favorite authors is G.K. Chesterton. In his work The Everlasting Man he recalls that the mystery of Christmas surprises us from behind, in ways we would never have expected. It is as if, Chesterton says, man had found an inner room in the very heart of his house, which he had never suspected, and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something in the back of his heart that betrayed Him into good.
On Christmas, God draws close, but He also hides. He comes right up to you, but almost always just out of your vision. He shows us so much of Himself, but never everything. This is why God wasn't born in Jerusalem, in the temple, on a mountain. No, he was born in Bethlehem (well, actually outside of the city) in a cave used as a stable.
The infinite God - eternal, all knowing, who every moment holds the entire universe in its place - cannot hold up His own head. He who cannot be caught, He cannot be controlled, He cannot be subdued – has his arms wrapped up by His mother Mary. The one who created the drama of history steps into it as a character, the hero of the story.
The cave of Christ's Nativity, being born in a sense underground, shows us how humble Jesus is. He is a man for everyone. But the cave shows us much more, according to Chesterton. The cave helps us to see that everything we had thought about the universe turns inside out, that theology is put on its head. The cave represents darkness and coldness, the sorrowful state of humanity after centuries of sinfulness – there comes Christ with the light of his truth and the warmth of his loving forgiveness.
But the cave also symbolizes protection and privacy from the dangers of the world. For Chesterton, the cave is a stronghold, a fortress. He says we announce peace on earth because of a war in heaven. The victory of that war is foreshadowed here in the cave, which is the bookend to the Gospel: the empty tomb hewn out of the rock, where the battle is won. For Chesterton, the wooden manger is fulfilled in the wood of the Cross, that he pictures as the sword of heaven driving the mortal blow into the earthly reign of sin. And the spoils of war are a relationship with that God, a love affair with Him forever in heaven.
Yes for Chesterton, Christmas is a revolution and the cave an outpost in a battlefield for humanity. Do we ourselves join in this battle? Do we struggle like the early Christians who found themselves so often in the caves of the catacombs?
Lastly, that cave is the Church. We come to the Church to find that God is so very close to us, yet He continues to conceal His mystery. We come to church to wonder at the paradoxes of our faith. We come to Church to remember that God is a humble God, a God for everyone, even our sinful selves. We come to the church to find protection from the dangers of this world. Here God surrounds us with His infinite strength. We come to the Church to find ourselves in a stronghold in the midst of the great battle of good and evil that continues in our souls.
We come to Church to find Jesus, to find God. We find Jesus in unexpected ways. He surprises us with Himself, and yet he continues to elude our grasp. He allures us. Do not be afraid to let Him close. Let yourself be drawn into that cave. Let yourself be wooed by the Lord of Heaven and Earth who fought the war you could not win, and who invites you to share the joys of victory in Heaven, in this Mass, in the Eucharist.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Homily 12-23-2012 Fear of the God who Comes So Close


 Are you afraid of God? Are you afraid of His presence? How close will you let God get to you? How much of your life, of your heart, will you share with God?
Do you know how King David answered these questions? David feared God with holy reverence, but was never afraid of Him coming too close. David, after he took his throne and established peace, actually went out to bring God to Jerusalem. David travelled to the hill-country of Judah, for the Ark of the Covenant, the concrete sign of God's presence with His people, containing the Ten Commandments, some manna, and the staff of Aaron, which dwelt in a tent and was with the Hebrews those 40 years throughout the desert and led them into the Promised Land. This one and only Ark David ceremonially brought into the new capital city, Jerusalem, as a sign of God's blessing and approval of David. No he wasn't afraid at all; rather, David lets God come as close as possible, and he rejoices to the point of dancing before the Lord.
Mary wasn't afraid of God either, though she also showed a great reverence, what we call “fear of the Lord,” or a respect for who God is, and it shows itself in a submissive posture to God's revelation, as well as a desire to hear God. Mary shows these qualities perfectly when God comes close to her, as she also shows her extreme courage in accepting a dangerous proposal along with making the journey (presumably alone) across the wilderness to see Elizabeth.
Micah tells us that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the city where David grew up as a shepherd boy before God made him a king. This small town of Judah is also near where Mary comes to find her cousin Elizabeth. And so God Himself comes close to Elizabeth, “in the midst” or in the “womb” (same Hebrew word) of Mary, who has now become the true Ark of the Covenant, bearing within her the Word of God which brings to fulfillment the Ten Commandments and the Bread of Life which fulfills the manna of the desert. Does Elizabeth cower in fear? No. When the ark is brought to her, Elizabeth rejoices; even John the Baptist rejoices, dancing before the Lord Jesus. They are not afraid. Why should they be? They know God to be a merciful, loving Lord who has delivered them from bondage, who has showered them with blessings. They know the Messiah will make true the promises of old, summarized in CCC 64, which says Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts. The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations. Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope.
Mary and Elizabeth bear this hope. Mary, as the Ark of the Covenant, bears it quite literally in her midst, in her womb.
Are you afraid of God coming too close? King David, Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist were not. They bore in their hearts a fear of the Lord, but were not filled with any terror at his coming so close. The fear of the Lord, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, gave them a reverence for God, a respect for who He is and for His words, a desire to find His Will and carry it out.
Whether God coming too close scares you or not, He is upon you. Christmas is two days away, and God visits you. Here in this Mass, God visits you. Mary is also a symbol of the Church, and here in the womb of the Church, here in your midst, comes the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. Approach Him with a Holy fear, let Him come closer than you ever have before, and experience the joy and peace that King David hoped for, that Elizabeth and John the Baptist saw, that Mary knew every moment after Gabriel's words. Come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Homily 12-19-2012 Joy in Midst of National Pain


 On Friday morning a small, quiet town met evil and the hearts of all in the United States were pierced to their depths with the pain of another horrendous tragedy. We all respond differently to such pieces of news: my first reaction was to be very angry. Slowly that turned to pain, and to tears. Yet in the midst of this suffering, God has once again in His Providence ordered things to bring good out of evil. Let us hope this will draw the hearts of all toward a greater vigilance against the evil in their own hearts, no matter how small it may seem. Let us hope it will strengthen us all to continue with greater perseverance the healing and unity of all peoples, especially those who are seemingly suffering in silence, estranged from others.
Today we celebrate particularly the virtue of hope. Paul is commanding the Philippians to rejoice. This is not a suggestion, but rather a demand, just as he would demand they be holy, just, and compassionate to the needy. They must rejoice, regardless of the circumstances. Paul's emphasis is certainly connected to the prophet Nehemiah's urging that “rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength” (Neh. 8:10), as well as Zephaniah's words of encouragement.
What is joy? Is joy an emotional high or some other nice feeling? Is joy a lack of pain? Is joy what we have when everything in life goes as we would want, or as we feel it should? No, joy must be something bigger than this, since Paul himself is writing to the Philippians from prison. And from that shameful and paralyzing experience he sees ever more clearly that Christians can bear joy quietly, at a deeper level of their soul, even when their feelings are contrary, even in the midst of deep pain, even when there is in this life is a tragedy or a disaster.
Joy, essentially, is delight in the goodness of God's providence that has conquered evil and given eternal meaning to human suffering, given glory to humanity. Joy is linked to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. Joy is remembering the whole story: that God redeems us, that God is with us. Joy is the knowledge that the all-powerful God loves us. “The Lord is near!” is the source of Christian joy. This is why it is possible for us even now to have joy.
John Paul II says that “In a Christian's heart, peace is inseparable from joy....When the joy that is in a Christian heart is poured out on others, it gives them hope and optimism; it spurns them to be generous in their daily toil and infects the entire society. My children, only if you have in you this divine grace which is joy and peace, will you be able to do anything useful for others.”
Thus Paul encourages us also to prayer, for prayer is critical for maintaining this peace that bears joy. St. Bernard of Clairvoux reminds us that prayer prevents things from robbing us of peace, since prayer “regulates our affections, directs our actions, corrects our faults, guides our conduct, gives beauty and order to our life. Prayer brings with it the knowledge of things divine and also things human. It determines what we ought to do and reflects on what we have done, in such a way that prayerful hearts never become restless or in need of discipline.” Without prayer, we expose ourselves to worry and anxiety, which can eat up our joy like a cancer. And the more we live in joy instead of in worry, the more we will realize that worry in fact always makes everything we do worse, because it sucks up our strength. Anxiety makes us to focus on our self-preservation rather than on the good of others, turning inward rather than outward, thus closing off the demands of love.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The O Antiphons

This post may be polished up more later, but for now, here you go:

THE GREAT ANTIPHONS or the O ANTIPHONS are used from December 17-23 to recall the fulfillment of all Old Testament hopes in Jesus Christ.  In fact, you already know them!, since they are also in our favorite Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"

See the following link for more information on them:

http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Advent-O-Antiphons.htm

And some good reflections on each antiphon specifically:

http://www.liturgy.co.nz/reflection/oantr2.html

The traditional antiphon text (from the Graduale Simplex / Liber Usualis) with the chant music and audio:
http://www.fisheaters.com/customsadvent10.html



~FT

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Homily 12-9-2012 God outworks human powers from a desert


 Today we are reminded that God outworks human powers, often from a desert. The Jews remember this particularly from their historical deliverance from Egypt and into the promised land. Those powers are thwarted not by their own hand, but by God's, right before their eyes in the desert.
When you hear desert in the Bible, do not think of Arizona. Think of the Dakota Badlands. The desert, more of a semi-mountainous and very bleak wilderness, is a symbol of powerlessness and stripping bare. It is the desert more specifically where God, on a mountain, formed a covenant with his people through Moses. Centuries later, the people needed another wake-up call, since they had abandoned their hearts from that covenant. They needed the silence of the wilderness; they needed a reminder of their powerlessness; they needed to be robbed of all those things that take their attention away from God.
This is where our reading from Baruch comes in. The fall of Jerusalem in 587BC was the most devastating even in Jewish history. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed, the leaders were bound and enslaved, the inhabitants were either likewise taken captive or their lifeless bodies were left under the open sky. And it is right then (after such great devastation) and right there (in the desert on the journey to slavery) where the prophet Baruch speaks today's words: Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God foreverUp, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. That “east” to which they look is taken up by the Church in her liturgy, where churches were built facing the east so that we could pray with our hope set on the rising sun, the perfect symbol of Christ's resurrection and God's divine action in our world. This is also why Catholic cemeteries bury their dead so as to rise facing the East. None of those people at that time felt particularly “remembered by God.” Yet the prophets words of hope prove true, for both Babylon and Jerusalem both fail under the power of God. God alone changes those hearts, and in that desert and that captivity in Babylon, the people recommit themselves to the Lord. His word pierces us, converts us, brings us to change ourselves and our world. God outworks our human powers, often from a desert.
The same reality is found in the Gospel. Luke puts the ministry of John the Baptist in a stark contrast with the big names of his day: the emperor Tiberius, his local administrator Pontius Pilate, the tetrarch Herod (a ruthless Jewish sell-out to the empire) and the high priests. All these big powers of the world, the ambition-driven movers and shakers who do all they can to bring people and daily affairs under their own influence, are ultimately silenced by God. They are shown to be nothing, both by their inability to change hearts and by God's choice to work through an apparent nobody. Even the high-priest fails to be the source of God's message, because God's primary work is done in the midst of a desert, de-void of any semblance of human power.
Advent is a reminder that God outworks our human powers, and often needs to call us back to Himself from a desert. Let us heed the call of the Baptist to the desert, to strip ourselves of all unnecessary things, so that we can return to the Lord with a clearer sense of what is important in life: our salvation, our redemption, and God's work before our own. Here in this Mass, God's power to change hearts is at its greatest height, even to make saints of us. Here, today, we ask God to change us and to prepare a way for His Son.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Homily 12-2-2012 STAYING AWAKE IN ADVENT


The season of Advent is a double preparation: we get ready for Christ's return at the end of time while we prepare for His coming into our world in the Incarnation. This is why we have the Gospel that describes what appears to be a time of turmoil and distress for many.
1st Thessalonians is a response. Paul writes to address issues, and in this letter the Church of Thessalonika are concerned about Christ's return. Paul encourages, instructs. He reminds them of what he has already taught, and calls them to fix what isn't right, and to go further in what they have already been doing well.
Advent – do something! Like a mini-Lent, prepare means more than setting up decorations and organizing parties. The spiritual life, like the cozy fireplace fires that I remember so well from the winters of my childhood, easily goes out if we ignore it. Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life,and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. The Son of Man comes to us all the time, whether it is at Mass or in our prayers, in our consciences or in the demands of our vocation, in our family and friends or even in absolute strangers who speak God's Word to us. But so often we fail to notice it, to hear it, to respond with love to God who is Love, simply because our hearts have become drowsy.
Hearts become drowsy when we need ignore the fire of our faith, and spend our time elsewhere. Do we visit our hearts often? or is our time filled to the brim with the noise of the senses: television, radio, food, news, shopping, busy-work and unimportant fretting? If God's Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts, then we need to go there to visit Him. Being vigilant, or staying awake like Christ and Saint Paul call us to in today's readings, means doing something, including perseverance in prayer. This is not easy, especially as the next weeks become more franctic for all of us. But Jesus knew what it meant to battle in the spiritual life. He gives us a great example of how to continue through the struggle of keeping our fire of faith kindled, as we are reminded in CCC 2849 Such a battle and such a victory become possible only through prayer. It is by his prayer that Jesus vanquishes the tempter, both at the outset of his public mission and in the ultimate struggle of his agony. In this petition to our heavenly Father, Christ unites us to his battle and his agony. He urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with his own.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Let us imitate Christ this Advent so we are ready to receive Him when He comes – both at the end of time and on Christmas Day. And let us visit our heart daily in prayer, so that the fire of our faith is always burning, so that we do not fall asleep and miss His visits to us in our everyday life.