10 September 2017

Activities for Hobbit Day 2017

September 22nd, being the birthday of both Bilbo and of Frodo Baggins, is rightly celebrated as Hobbit Day, a day for feasting, singing, and dancing with friends.

For those in the Midwest, the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois will host a lecture and recital of the J.R.R. Tolkien/David Swann song cycle, The Road Goes Ever On that evening at 7:30 p.m. Prior to an evening of music (even if you are not in the Midwest), you can take part in the virtual Hobbit Day 5K.

I've signed up for the Hobbit Day 5K and hope to go to the lecture and recital. It'll be good to see the folks at the Wade Center, a reading and research library for the writings of the Inklings, and Tolkien's writing desk again.


Homily - 10 September 2017 - Does the dogma live loudly within you?

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Living as I now do on the near outskirts of civilization, I take great pleasure in watching the sunset from within the back yard of the rectory. I have only been with you just a few weeks, but already there is a great difference in the time the sun passes below the horizon. Whereas once the daylight began to fade after 8:30 p.m., now it begins to fade before 7:30 p.m., making it sometimes difficult for me to be home in time to see the glowing orb descend. As I look at the appearance of the sky, I know the great white death of winter will soon be upon us and my heart grows a little sad; as you see the appearance of the sky, you likely know the harvest will soon be upon us and your hearts probably grow a little happy.

The ancient Anglo-Saxons also knew something about the appearance of the sky and of the natural world. While we say the autumn season will not be upon us for a couple of weeks yet, they said autumn began on the seventh of August because it coincided with their harvest; the Anglo-Saxon word for autumn is haerfest, from which we have our word harvest, a season “bright, laden with fruits.”[1] The harvest, said the Anglo-Saxons, “is a joy to men, when God, holy king of the heavens, causes the earth to give bright fruits for nobles and the needy.”[2] All of this we know simply by looking around us.

Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees and the Sadducees who “asked him to show them a sign from heaven” to prove his identity (Matthew 16:1). He said in answer, “In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:2-3). Though nearly two thousand years have passed since he spoke those words, the truth of his words has not passed and we have sadly not grown wiser. If you do not think a persecution of faithful Christians is slowly building within these United States of America, you simply are not reading the signs of times.

As a priest of Jesus Christ, I have been appointed a watchman and I must warn you of a coming danger (cf. Ezekiel 33:7). The Senate Judiciary Committee sat this past Wednesday to consider the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett - a distinguished lawyer and professor, and faithful Catholic - to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. During her confirmation hearing, a sitting U.S. senator said to her:

Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that—you know, dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.[3]

Yes, a nominee for a federal court was told by a sitting U.S. Senator that her deeply held Catholic faith are troubling. She would never have dared to speak such words to a Muslim, a Jew, or a Quaker, but Catholics are fair game.

The Senator went on to say, “You’re controversial because many of us that have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems. And Roe entered into that, obviously.”[4] She said this despite the judicial nominee’s insistence that “It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law.”[5] She said this, moreover, because she is reading the signs of the times. She knows that each year the March for Life grows both longer and younger. She knows Catholics are and have been at the forefront of the growing movement to protect human life at every stage. The senator knows the generations after her will seek to undo the evil she supports and she and her colleagues will not let this happen quietly.

Another senator went so far as to ask the nominee pointedly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”[6] He asked her this question despite Article VI of the Constitution of the United States, which declares:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Ask yourself this question: If the role of a judge is to apply the law of the land to cases heard before him or her, why is her faith being questioned at all? The question should instead be whether a nominee will apply the law as it is written and nothing more.

That is not what happened this past week in Washington, D.C. The implication behind the two senators’ lines of questioning is that a faithful Catholic is unfit to interpret American law. And if a faithful Catholic is unfit for such a high office, for what else is a faithful Catholic unfit in this country? Anyone who knows the history of this nation knows that Catholics were publicly persecuted for more than a century because it was believed that faithful Catholics could not also be good Americans. We fought long and hard to be accepted in this country and those days of persecution and discrimination may soon be upon us again because we remain unflinching in our recognition of the great dignity of all human life. Therefore, each of us must ask ourselves, “Does the dogma live loudly within me?”

Before we can answer this question, we must know what a dogma is. To put it simply, a dogma is “an article of faith proclaimed by a Council or the Pope as divine revelation contained in Scripture and Tradition.”[7] The dogmas of the Church are contained in the Creed, which we recite every Sunday and holy day. They are statements of faith that must be believed in order to be a Christian. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the dogmas “are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith” (89).

The dogmas of the Church should live loudly within each one of us because they each contain a different aspect of the life of Christ Jesus and of our salvation from sin and death. If the dogmas do not live loudly within us, we can be certain something is not as it should be, that we have hardened our hearts and have not bowed down in true worship or humbly knelt “before the Lord who made us” (cf. Psalm 95:8; 6). To accept the dogmas of the Church, to embrace the truth of the aspects of the life of Jesus and of his Church they enunciate and reveal, is to live the life of a disciple. This is why the dogmas must live loudly within each one of us. Jesus himself, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:27). The Christian faith is not meant to be kept quiet and so the senator’s attempted insult was paradoxically a mark of high praise.

If someone tells us the dogma lives loudly within us, we should “sing joyfully to the Lord, and acclaim the rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1). If someone tells us the dogma does not live loudly within us, we should be concerned because it would mean we have not yet begun to reflect the love of Jesus in our words and deeds. This is why Saint Paul tells us today to “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” and for which reason he reminds us that “love does no evil to the neighbor” (Romans 13:8, 10). The dogma will be known to live loudly within us if we listen to Saint Augustine, who said:

The rule of love is that one should wish his friend to have all the good things he wants to have himself and should not wish the evils to befall his friend which he wishes to avoid himself. He shows this benevolence to all men. No evil must be done to any. Love of one’s neighbor works no evil. Let us then love even our enemies as we are commanded, if we wish to be truly unconquered.[8]

Let each of us, then, not harden our hearts to the Lord, but allow them instead to melt before his the gaze of his mercy and be set aflame with the fire of his love. May all who see us or hear of us know us to be men, women, and children who love Jesus. May they know us to be people within whom the dogma lives loudly! Amen.

[1] Menalogium, in Eleanor Parker, “‘On haerfest ham gelædeđ’: Anglo-Saxon Harvests,” A Clerk of Oxford, 7 August 2016.
[2] Old English Rune Poem, in ibid.
[3] Senator Dianne Feinstein, in “Democrats and ‘Dogma’: Are you now or have you ever been an ‘orthodox Catholic’?”, The Wall Street Journal, 7 September 2017.
[4] Ibid., in Matt Hadro, “Concerns of ‘Anti-Catholic bigotry’ as judicial nominee questioned about faith,” Catholic News Agency, 7 September 2017.
[5] Amy Coney Barrett, in ibid.
[6] Senator Richard Durbin, in ibid.
[7] YouCat: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, trans. Michael J. Miller, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 90.
[8] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Of True Religion, 87. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. VI: Romans (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 320.

03 September 2017

Homily - 3 September 2017 - The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Earlier this week, a headline of great importance caught my attention that most of the world simply ignored: “After three years of ISIS occupation, the Mass returns to Mosul.”[1] Can you imagine three years without the Eucharist?

PHOTO: Amigos de Irak
For the first – or, possibly, the second – time in three years, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered in the Iraqi city of Mosul - one month to the day of the city’s liberation from the Islamic State - on August 9th in what remains of St. George’s Monastery. When the Islamic State took Mosul in June of 2014, its fighters quickly began “using sledgehammers to smash crosses and icons, and removing the cross from the dome and replacing it with the black ISIS flag.”[2] They did what they could to remove every symbol of the Christian faith, but they could not remove the faith from the hearts of Christians.

What did our brothers and sisters experience as they watched their very dearest places be destroyed? What emotions filled their hearts as they suffered so dearly? Surely they cried out with the Prophet Jeremiah, “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day” (Jeremiah 20:7).

We might suffer an occasional taunt because of our faith in Jesus, but they endured unspeakable persecution. To avoid any sort of ridicule, we keep quiet about our faith and pretend it is merely a private matter, but the Christians in Iraq, though they knew the persecution was coming, did not keep their faith hidden. Rather, they proclaimed the merciful love of the Lord Jesus to those who were not merciful because our brothers and sisters knew Jesus’ “kindness is a greater good than life” (Psalm 63:4). Do we know the same? They trusted in the Lord’s words that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mathew 16:25). Do we trust the same?

Just as their faith in the Lord Jesus has not been in vain, neither will our faith be in vain. Now the black flag that taunted the Christians of Mosul for more than three years has at long last come down. They have rightly replaced it with the cross of Our Lord and beneath its shadow they “shout for joy” (Psalm 63:8). Now, finally, they can gather again at the Lord’s altar and sing, “As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you” (Psalm 63:9).

If we so often shy away from any public expression of our faith as we go about our daily lives, how did they have the strength to manifest their faith in public? They could do so because they listened to the instruction of Saint Paul “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans12:1). Commenting on the Apostle’s admonition, Saint Augustine asked:

If the body … is a sacrifice when it is used well and rightly for the service of God, how much more so is the soul when it offers itself to God? In this way, aflame in the fire of divine love and with the dross of worldly desire melted away, it is remolded into the unchangeable form of God and becomes beautiful in his sight by reason of the bounty of beauty which he has bestowed upon it.[3]

How can you and I offer ourselves to God so our hearts might be aflame in the fire of divine love? The answer is very close to us and a bit obvious, and so for this reason is often overlooked. The answer is found in the offertory of the Mass.

In just a few moments, the offertory will begin with the preparation of the altar, the taking up of the collection, and the presentation and offering of the gifts. Mother Church urges us to participate in each of these aspects of the offertory, but what does this mean?

To participate means to share in the task of another. Here that other is the priest. He is not there for himself, but for the congregation. By means of the words he speaks and gestures he makes in the power of his office, something happens – through Christ. Everyone present is called upon to share in that happening. The priest responds to it, not privately for himself, but for all. And again all are invited to share in his invocation, celebration, adoration, pleading, and thanksgiving. The celebrant’s actions radiate in all directions far beyond his personal life. This is so primarily that all may – and should – enter into them.[4]

It is not enough for us to come to the Mass without preparing to participate in it, nor is it enough for us to be at the Mass and simply stand, sit, and kneel at the proper moments and mumbling the responses without ever entering into the mystery of the Mass in the quiet of our hearts. To be sure, given the many distractions that may be present, this is not always easy to do, but still we must try. As with everything else important in life, something is required of us; we are required to offer ourselves to God.

In just a few moments I will receive your offerings and present them to God and will then invite you to join me in offering your gifts. What I will offer

is really very little [just a bit of bread, some wine, pieces of paper, and the occasional coin]. We could say that it has practically no value. But, it should represent us. If you want to learn to take [your] proper part in the Holy Mass, it is important that you learn to offer yourself and to offer all that is yours in this moment of the Mass.3 Take your work, your studies, your needs, your struggle, and even your weaknesses. Take all of that and put it on the paten beside the hosts, those small pieces of bread. Put it on the chalice with the wine.

Jesus Christ is going to come to this altar within a few minutes. There are many ways in which he could have chosen to come. But he has wished to come by marvelously turning the bread and the wine into his own body and blood. He has wished to come by means of transubstantiation, by which something that we offer him, something that is ours, is changed into his body and blood, while of the bread and wine only the appearances remain. The bread and the wine are our gifts, our offering to God. They will be your gift and your offering if you make them yours, if you put yourself there, on the paten with the bread, in the chalice with the wine. If you let yourself get distracted at the moment when the priest is offering the gifts, then the bread and the wine will be other people's gifts, something that other people offer to God. But they won't be your gifts, because you have not offered them, you have not offered yourself with them.[5]

Let us, then, heed the words of Saint Paul and make of ourselves an offering to God, that our hearts might be aflame with the fire of divine love. Then we will be able to manifest the joy and peace that comes from being friends of God and bring others to offer themselves to him, as well. If we live in this way, not only will our souls thirst for God, we will be satisfied with his gift of himself. Amen.

[1]After three years of ISIS occupation, the Mass returns to Mosul,” Catholic World Report, 30 August 2017.
[2]ISIS Destroys Assyrian Churches,Hostages Still Being Held,” Assyrian International News Agency, 16 March 2016. Cf. “Muslims and Christians unite to rebuild Mosul monastery,” Catholic News Agency, 7 June 2017.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, 10.6.
[4] Romano Guardini, Meditations Before Mass (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1993), 35.
[5] Cormac Burke, The Mass Explained (Manila: Sinag-Tala Publishers, 1981).