Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jer 20:10-13 / Ps 69 / Rom 5:12-15 / Mt 10:26-33
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
In case you missed it, on June 16 we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day after that, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This past Thursday we celebrated the Memorial of St. Thomas More, and just yesterday, the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. I see in that sequence of celebrations the love of Jesus’ Sacred Heart burning in Mary’s, Thomas More’s, and John’s hearts, enabling their great victories. We receive His Sacred Heart at every Mass in the Eucharist! Keep this truth and these spiritual heroes in mind during this homily on trusting in God’s grace when the world persecutes us for witnessing to His truth and love.
The LA Dodgers major league baseball organization recently held a public event in their stadium to give a “Community Hero Award” to a group of men who dress as nuns and mock the Catholic Church, which is to say they mock Christ (CNA). Now pray today’s Psalm 69 again, “For your sake I bear insult…I have become an outcast to my brothers…the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”
Washington Nationals pitcher and Catholic, Trevor Williams, responded to the Dodgers’ celebration of mockery by becoming the first major league player to denounce the Dodgers’ award ceremony for an organization the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called “blasphemous (CNA).” His Twitter comments denouncing this attack on the Catholic faith have been retweeted thousands of times. He has been criticized, yes, but Williams said he wanted to show his four children that if they are ever tested, it is ok to stand up for their faith. By the way, Trevor’s own faith took off after going to Adoration as a teenager.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is lamenting how those “who WERE [his] friends” denounce him, watching for “any misstep” so they can trap and “take vengeance on him (Jer 20:10).” However, Jeremiah doesn’t worry about being “canceled” for his faith in God. He defiantly writes, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. (Jer 20:11-13)!”
St. Thomas More can relate to Jeremiah’s lamenting about friends turning on him. More was King Henry VIII’s chancellor, and the King wanted More to sanction his illegitimate second marriage in addition to his self-proclaimed position of head of the Catholic Church in England. More refused to sanction either, and King Henry VIII began to cancel More’s job, his status, money, and reputation. But More’s faith did not break. The King was frustrated and finally ordered More’s beheading.
More’s last words exemplify Jesus’ exhortation in today’s gospel. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Mt 10:28).” Likewise, More said, “I die his majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.” This is called holy fear, which Bishop Barron describes as fearing “losing intimacy and friendship with God (Barron 72).”
St. Paul, in the second reading, wrote to the Roman Church, “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Living the hope of these words in prison before his execution, Thomas More wrote, “His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.” In doing so, More also echoed today’s Psalm “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not (Ps 69:33).”
Like the baseball player Trevor Williams, More also wanted to teach his child through his actions. In his letter from prison to his daughter, Margaret he wrote, “Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”
What of the people who mock the Church and try to teach our children to do the same? Jeremiah called the mockers “evildoers” and spoke of God “putting them to shame.” These strong words can be difficult for us, because as Christ’s followers, we look at our persecutors like the first deacon, Stephen. As he was being stoned to death for sharing his faith, he said in imitation of Jesus on the Cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
When we read the Bible, it is important that we read it in light of the gospels which rightly order our thoughts. To better understand this difficult challenge, it is illuminating to look at Jeremiah’s words through the lens of today’s gospel reading. Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one…And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Mt 10:28).” What is Jesus doing here? He is, in His perfect love, “casting out all fear (Jn 4:18)!!” What causes the cycle of accusations, mockery, and violence? Fear. However, if my heart is fed by and enfolded in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then I fear no one, nowhere. Free from fear, I can respond with Christ’s love and break the chains of conflict and discord. I can even pray for God to forgive those men mocking our Lord, “to not hold their sin against them.”
Sound unreasonable or naive? Thomas More, like all the great saints, shows us the way. In his letter to Margaret, he did not mock Henry VIII, nor point out his sin of adultery. He, with an eye on eternity instead of the here and now, wrote this about Henry: “His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest.” Like the bold hymn, Faith of our Fathers, More was “chained in prison dark, but was still in heart and conscience free.”
Is there no justice or accountability, then, for those who persecute and mock us? Do we just let them walk all over us? A wise priest once told an angry man, “You cannot do worse to that person than God will.” Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father (Mt 10:33).” That is a polite way of saying not everyone goes to heaven. God commands us to forgive our enemies. Justice is His domain.
Do not be afraid to speak the truth. Remember that there is no love without it. It is a spiritual oxymoron to say I want someone to be happy while suppressing the truth when I am with them. Could speaking the truth cause me pain and suffering? Yes. No doubt some of you have experienced this in your own families and at work and school. So, I ask myself a question: Do I fear the Lord who can cast body and soul into Gehenna, as much as I fear acknowledging Him when it might cause me discomfort? We must keep an eternal perspective of our life. Psalm 85 says, “Salvation is near for those who fear Him.” But take heart! God does not abandon us when we testify to His truth, love, and good news. Remember Jeremiah’s words, “My persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph.”
We see this truth in the rest of the story of the heroes we just heard about. Trevor Williams says many players and stadium employees have secretly thanked him. And on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Trevor Williams was given the honor of leading the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for tens of thousands on the Hallow app. As for the British Catholic Church, seemingly taken over by Henry VIII, it is now the leading religion in Thomas More’s beloved London. John the Baptist was beheaded, but Jesus called him the greatest born of woman, and the Church honors his birth two thousand years later with its highest-ranking feast, a Solemnity!
And what about our awesome mother, Mary? She stayed at her son’s side, throughout His persecution and Crucifixion, despite extraordinary personal pain, her Immaculate Heart enfolded in His Sacred Heart. For her fidelity was she abandoned by God to poverty and loneliness with no husband and no son? No. Jesus, with one of His last seven utterances on the Cross, gave her a new son who went on to write of her victorious coronation as Queen of Heaven (Rev 12:1).
Let’s close with God’s word, which gives us hope and helps us to be bold in the Spirit despite our failings, inadequacies, and fears. The next time you need to proclaim His truth “from the housetops,” remember these words exchanged between Jesus and St. Paul. Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).” Amen.
Bishop Robert Barron. The Word on Fire Bible-The Gospels. Word on Fire Ministries 2020.
Filip Mazurczak. Is a re-Catholicization of Britain underway? The Catholic World Report, July 14, 2020.
Peter Pinedo. Washington Nationals pitcher Trevor Williams speaks out on Dodgers controversy. Catholic News Agency (CNA), June 14, 2023.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday of Divine Mercy
April 16, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Acts 2:42-47 / Ps 118 / 1 Pt 1:3-9 / Jn 20:19-31
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant
Last Sunday’s gospel describes the first hint of the apostles’ understanding of the Resurrection. The women went to the tomb to anoint the Body and thought that somebody had taken the Body away. Then when Mary Magdalene went there, she asked a person who she thought was the gardener (but was in fact Jesus), who had taken away the Body of Jesus away.
But the other apostles were skeptical. Remember the story of the two disciples who were walking a couple miles distant from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus, and they were discussing all the things that had happened. Jesus walks along and begins to explain all the scriptures, why this had happened. Those two disciples invite Jesus to have supper with them, because it was the end of the day. But those disciples didn’t know it was Him. It was not until Jesus took the bread and blessed it.
What became of the apostles? All except John, the youngest apostle, were martyred. After the crucifixion, John the apostle took the Blessed Virgin Mary into his home as his mother, as Jesus commended him from the cross. Everywhere around the Mediterranean that John went to preach, she accompanied him, and we believe she died in Ephesus, Turkey.
Two apostles were both named James: James the Less and James the Greater, based on their respective ages. One James missioned himself after the Resurrection to the Roman province of Santiago, Spain, and he preached there and did wonderful work, calling people to the Faith, explaining all about Jesus, and then preaching and celebrating the Eucharist. Eventually, he was martyred by the Romans in Spain. His remains are believed to be there in Santiago today.
The other James became bishop of Jerusalem. He also was martyred.
Thomas figures in our scripture today. He kind of gets a bum rap: Doubting Thomas, as if he did something wrong. Thanks be to God that he had that doubt, because he expresses what we have in our own lives today: the doubts about things in our own life. Are my prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God answer me? Why is my son or daughter not following the example I give? These doubts as to whether we have the attention of God and His coming into our lives.
So thanks be to God that we have Thomas saying, I’m going to want to see this in action. When he realizes and touches the Body of Jesus, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” After which, Jesus asks for something to eat, to further confirm that He is not a ghost by eating baked fish or other food. When we have the elevation of the sacred Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, you can also say, “My Lord and my God!”
After the Resurrection of the Lord and His Ascension into heaven, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles spread out among the Middle Eastern countries. Thomas gathered some others and went to present-day Jordan and into Syria, and began to teach about Jesus Christ, and to bring the Faith to the people in the northwestern part of Syria, where they developed an Eastern form of the Mass.
Thomas then learns about India and people there who yearned for the Faith. So Thomas made the very long trek to the south of India, to the modern state of Kerala. He preached the Gospel there and formed a liturgy for them, too, based on the Syriac liturgy and vestments. These Christians were the Malabar people. To this day, we have Syro-Malabar Catholics, even in the United States, using the liturgy that St. Thomas developed for them.
Thomas apparently went to other areas in the south of India and met people who were not in favor of what he was teaching to the people of Kerala, and he was eventually martyred.
So thanks be to St. Thomas, who helps us in our faith, even in our doubts.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 37:12-14 / Ps 130 / Rom 8:8-11 / Jn 11:1-45
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
From today’s Psalm we hear, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word (Ps 130: 5-6).” It is a good Lenten practice to ask ourselves, Do I trust God? Do I understand what is meant by divine providence? When my future is uncertain or I am experiencing suffering, darkness, death, or discord in my life, do I trust that He hears and answers my prayers? Today’s gospel clearly affirms that in God’s plan, “[S]uffering and death are not meaningless (Martin 200).”
On Hallow’s forty-day Lenten series, Jonathan Roumie shared a story that illustrates how God, in His providence makes good come from suffering. Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Polish-American Jesuit priest who was doing clandestine missionary work in the USSR, was imprisoned in a Soviet Union labor camp for twenty-three years. While in prison, he struggled with the seeming crushing of his dream to spread the faith. Despair came upon him, until he surrendered to God in the midst of his imprisonment, forced labor, and nutritional and spiritual deprivation.
How did Fr. Ciszek’s Catholic faith enable him to move from despair to helping the other prisoners “find God and attain eternal life (Hallow)?” A key insight was that he came to realize that “God is in all things.” He wrote, “To see His will in all things was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring.” This quote is from his autobiography, “He Leadeth Me,” which he wrote in peace and comfort in America. His autobiography is accomplishing his dream of spreading the faith much more effectively than if he had not suffered as he did.
Now let’s look at the gospel for a message on trust in divine providence. When Jesus receives word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus is ill, does He go and heal him as Mary and Martha expected their intercession to bring about? No. Listen to the oddness in these two verses. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was ill, He remained for two days in the place where He was (Jn 11:5-6).” Jesus, who is God, loves them and hears their prayer request to heal Lazarus, but does not do it. Why?
Jesus gives us a couple of reasons. After telling the disciples that Lazarus has died, He says, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe (Jn 11:15).” At Lazarus’s tomb, He tells His Father that He is praying out loud “that they may believe that you sent me (Jn 11:42).” Jesus delayed so that people would come to believe He was sent by God and has power even over the grave.
Dr. Brant Pitre shares the reflections of three saints on Jesus’ delay. They shine a light on divine providence that Mary and Martha, in the sorrow of the moment, could not see. St. Peter Chrysologus explained it this way: “For Christ, it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. He showed His friend His love not by healing him but by calling him back from the grave. Instead of a remedy for his illness, He offered him the glory of rising from the dead (Sermon 63:1-2).”
My favorite of the three reflections Pitre shared may be from St. Andrew of Crete. He imagined Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb saying, “Lazarus, Come out!…As a friend, I am calling you; as Lord I am commanding you…Come out! Let the stench of your body prove the resurrection. Let the burial linen be undone so that they can recognize the one who was put in the tomb. Come out!…Come out of the tomb….(And here is the clincher….) Teach them how all creation will be enlivened in a moment, when the trumpet’s voice proclaims the resurrection of the dead (Homily 8).” St. Andrew was alluding to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which tells of an angel blowing a trumpet when Jesus returns on the last day and the dead being raised at its sound. This spiritual truth is sung at the Easter Vigil in the Exultet, “Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud the mighty King’s triumph!”
The third reflection was from St. John Chrysostom. He points out that, “Many are offended when they see any who are pleasing to God suffering anything terrible…They do not know that those who are especially dear to God have it as their lot to endure such things as is the case with Lazarus, who is a friend of Christ but was also sick (Homilies on John).”
God knows the big picture. We do not. Mary and Martha did not. While they just wanted their brother healed, Jesus wanted to draw more people to Himself by showing that He has power even over death. Through divine providence, Mary and Martha received a gift much greater than what they asked for.
The saints seem to get this, and so they do not fret over their suffering or impending death. St. Pope John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and the aforementioned St. John Chrysostom come to mind (Pitre). They could live lives of heroic virtue because they trusted that God’s providence would bring about a greater good out of their suffering and death.
In raising Lazarus from the dead, we see Jesus vastly exceed that for which Mary and Martha prayed. This teaches us to trust that God hears our prayers and sees our tears (remember He wept with them). We have been doing extra fasting, abstinence, prayer, and charity for five weeks, but do we trust that God is doing something with our efforts? If you have not noticed any change or transformation in yourself, it may be that like Mary and Martha you are focused on looking for what you asked for instead of looking for what God chose to do. Ask Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to reveal what the Father has done and is doing in you.
Here is another true story about providence, and this one is from a friend of mine named HV. He was a 16-year-old when his family had to flee their home country of Vietnam. HV remembers suffocating heat worsened by standing shoulder to shoulder on a boat with other refugees. People began to die around him as they had no water for three days. Ultimately, his family arrived in Virginia Beach. HV had no friends, could not speak English, and struggled with American culture.
Growing up, HV’s parents had prayed the rosary regularly with him and his siblings. His father had even taken him to a seminary to apply for the priesthood. (He was turned down.) Nevertheless, the awfulness of his family’s refugee experience led him to decide that God did not exist. Like Fr. Ciszek, though, HV came to see God in all these things.
His family survived the boat trip and were now living, in HV’s words, “in the greatest country on earth.” He ended up marrying, having children and becoming an engineering manager. He and his wife served the youth in their parish, and he served in the Knights of Columbus. And on September 25, 2021, the man who was turned down by that Vietnamese seminary, was ordained with me and is now a permanent deacon. And, by the way, his easy-going manner and sense of humor made him the class favorite and enviably, my family’s favorite as well. His parent’s prayers were heard, and God made a greater good come about for his family from the evil of war than if it had never happened.
My last sharing is from the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia of the Sisters of Life in New York. It was prayed in Hallow’s 40 Day Lenten challenge. She wrote that, “The Lord knows that we don’t have what it takes on our own. He comes to us with great love. He sustains us at all times, even when we are not aware of Him.”
Let’s close with part of the Litany so that you can continue to pray your own form of it these last days of Lent. I invite you to respond in your heart after each petition, Jesus, I trust in You. “That You are with me in my suffering…Jesus, I trust in You. That Your plan is better than anything else…Jesus, I trust in You. That You always hear me, and in Your goodness always respond to me…Jesus, I trust in You. That you give me all the strength I need for what is asked…Jesus I trust in You. That you can deliver me from resentment [and] excessive preoccupation with the past…Jesus, I trust in You. That my life is a gift…Jesus, I trust in You. That I am Your beloved one…Jesus, I trust in You.”
Brothers and sisters, make the saints’ trust in divine providence yours and, with God’s grace, move your Lent from doubt to confidence and from struggle to peacefulness. God is in all our experiences and so our future, no matter what it holds, is the best. Amen.
Hallow App. Lent #Pray40 Part 1: Imitation of Christ. Week 5 Tuesday and Wednesday reflections. March 2023.
Peter Kreeft. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle A. Word of Fire 2022.
Fr. Mark Toups. Lenten Companion, A Personal Encounter with the Power of the Gospel. Ascension Publishing 2023.
Fr. Francis Martin & William T. Wright IV. Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture. The Gospel of John. Baker Academic, 2015.KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Sir 15:15-20 / Ps 119 / 1 Cor 2:6-10 / Mt 5:17-37
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
I was at lunch several years ago with a very kind priest, and we got to talking about a young man we knew who started missing Mass and avoiding church and the sacraments and prayer life. In fact, he was openly disagreeing with many of the Church’s teachings. I said, “Father, even so, he’s a good guy; he’s nice and thoughtful, kind and generous,” and as I was saying that, the priest started getting visibly agitated. And pretty strongly he said, “Deacon, I’m tired of hearing ‘He’s a good guy, or a good boy, or a good girl.’ We’re not called to be good; we’re called to be holy.”
So, I had to kind of think and take it back a little bit; one, it was uncharacteristic of his demeanor, but two, it made me think quite a bit about it. And in a way, in today’s gospel, Jesus is saying something similar.
Does it work for me to say, “I’m ok, I’m a good guy, I haven’t killed anyone.” That’s our goal? That’s our standard? That’s the bar that we set for ourselves in our moral and spiritual lives? Just to simply avoid the major obvious sins, and I’m ok, I didn’t kill anyone, haven’t cheated on my wife, haven’t bad mouthed God. I haven’t lied, at least no big ones, just little white ones.
No, brothers and sisters, that’s not the goal. Jesus says today, “I have come.” That’s pretty important, the Son of God has said, “I have come.” What’s going to follow? I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets. I have come to fulfill, to extend, to complete, to make perfect. I have come. I have come. He’s come to call us to something higher, something better, something more noble, something heaven-like.
He shows us that worldly dominance passes the closer we get to God, and it’s replaced with humility, and love, and mercy. He sets the bar higher and calls us, not only to recognize that bar, especially the thou-shalt-not bars, but to look the other way for our goal: to look the other way from that bar, and to look inside for the ideals, inside of us where He planted His Holy Spirit at our baptism.
Do I look at that boundary, that thou-shalt-not-kill, that murder boundary, and just see how close I can get to it in my life without crossing over it into moral badness, if you will? I stay safe on this side: I really want to hurt the guy, but I’m not stepping over the line.
Or do I hold in my heart the love of my neighbor, the love of the other, and of their God-given true dignity? Do I work to remove my anger, or my resentment, or my jealousy, and replace it with love? Love, wishing the good of the other, wishing for that person to join me in the kingdom?
The ideal is a high bar and it’s not defined by a list of borders, a list of boundaries, a list of what’s morally good and what morally isn’t. It’s not contained in two lists: Here are the do’s and here are the don’ts. The bar is a change in our hearts; it’s a modification of the direction of our lives and our love.
What must I do to follow Jesus, to be a good Christian, to become holy? Every now and again in my spiritual life I ask myself that question, and I imagine some of you have asked it as well; what am I supposed to do to be a good Christian? And oftentimes when I’m talking with folks in RCIA who are considering coming into the Church, they have that same general question: What do I do to be a good Christian, and follower of Jesus?
And in moments of clarity, very rare moments of clarity, I can give them an answer: If you want to be a good Christian, doing what Jesus asks is a good start. Pope Francis had a similar answer, and he didn’t ask me for any help when he came up with it. He explains, “So if anyone asks what one must do to be a good Christian, the answer is clear: We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.”
We’re in the third out of four weeks of going through the Sermon on the Mount during this ordinary time. Two weeks ago, we did the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they…” Last week we were salt and light. We’re still salt and light this week too. Next week we have another reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
So Pope Francis says, “Just do what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.” That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Pretty simple? Well, it isn’t quite so easy when we probably have to hear the message over and over. Let’s read about it, let’s pray over it, let’s meditate over the gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven. Wash, rinse, repeat. Read it again.
Let it sink into our hearts, so they’re pointing the opposite directions of those boundaries, those borders, the “I didn’t kill anybody.” Because the message is love centered on Christ, and it is directed toward others, wishing, praying for the good of the other. It’s our relationship in the world. It’s salt and light, and it’s mercy, forgiveness and mercy.
Now remember, mercy doesn’t mean leniency. It doesn’t mean morally compromising. It doesn’t mean lowering the bar. When Jesus is giving His teaching today, you don’t see Him lowering the bar, He’s extending the bar into the heart. He’s not appeasing the social norms or the civil norms or the governmental norms of his day, He’s not doing it then, He’s not doing it today, because the ideal is high and we as Christians are bound to Him and our goal is heaven, our goal is to be a saint. That’s my goal, I pray that it’s your goal as well. It’s a very high ideal.
Mercy is there, mercy is available, sure, when we fall short of the ideal, when we miss the mark, which is another way to say when we sin. But Jesus and His Church don’t lower the bar, because it’s that important. Instead, we are called to extend His love, and extend His mercy, to live a moral life. We can’t do that alone; we cannot do it by ourselves; we need help.
And we get help, praise God we get help, because we’re washed of our sin and filled with light at our baptism, the light of Christ at our baptism. So that Jesus accompanies us and assists us because he becomes our moral compass and He is our only goal, He is our moral bar, and our earthly wish is to carry Him always in our hearts, because we don’t want to just be a good guy or a good girl or a good woman or a good boy. We don’t want to be just a good guy, but we want to be saints.
At the beginning of every mass, we have this opening prayer, when Father says “let us pray” after the Gloria. It’s called the “Collect.” That’s when we’re all collecting together and beginning the Mass, and that prayer is a summary of the purpose of today’s Mass. I want to repeat it because I think it’s beautiful: “O God who teach us that You abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by Your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to You.” Isn’t that beautiful? Praise God and amen.KEEP READING
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 4, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Wis 9: 13-18b / Ps 90 / Phmn 9-10, 12-17 / Lk 14: 25-33
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Last Sunday, Jesus spoke about the virtue of humility, as He told the Pharisee and his guests that those who humble themselves will be exalted. In today’s gospel, He is teaching us about the virtue of detachment, even from family members.
Detachment’s power is like humility in that it frees us to be happy and to love. Along with humility, it is necessary for us to respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship. Jesus told us that to be saved, we must “strive to enter through the narrow gate (Lk 13:24).” One way we strive is by detachment from our way and our stuff, which frees us to love God first and then others as our self. This is the path that leads through the narrow gate.
Bishop Barron said that one of the most challenging things Jesus ever said was, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Father Pablo Gadenz explains this unsettling passage well. “Jesus’ reference to hating one’s relatives is a Jewish saying that uses exaggeration to indicate one’s preference. For example, in the book of Genesis, the phrase, “Leah was hated” means Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah” (Gn 29: 30-31; Gadenz 269).” Thus, Jesus was making the point that we must love Him before everyone else, even family.
Detachment is important in our everyday life, especially family life. For example, people say the leading cause of failed marriages is money. Not so. That is a symptom, not a cause. The leading cause is the husband and wife loving the various things in this world first and then Jesus, or even loving each other first before Him. Jesus is the fount of love, not our spouse. Jesus is the source of our happiness and peace, not the accolades and stuff. We hear Jesus express it this way, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be (Lk 12:34).”
Where is our heart during Mass? Where is the treasure? During the Eucharistic prayer, Father says, “Lift up your hearts.” We enthusiastically respond, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Fr. Jeremy Driscoll says the command to “lift up our hearts” is a signal to leave all thoughts of this world behind…all our joys, all our sorrows, and all our responsibilities. Our words, “We lift them up to the Lord,” are a pledge of detachment from this world. It enables us to fully participate in the Eucharistic prayer and recognize the Eucharist as our treasure, that our hearts may be there.
When detachment applies to our ego it takes the form of humility. Jesus gave us this example, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Mt 5:39).” And St. Paul gives us more guidance in Romans 12, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them…Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in sight of all (Rom 12; 14, 17).” Detachment from our ego involves detachment from getting even with those who hurt or shame us. The ability to not escalate conflict is rooted in trust that God will render judgment and justice; we don’t need to.
When it comes to detachment the saints are our teachers. Here are four: St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Theresa of Avila, and one I’ll make you guess.
Our first saint, Ignatius of Loyola, in his still very popular Spiritual Exercises, developed a “Principle and Foundation” that helps us understand the spirit of Christian detachment. He starts with the most fundamental of questions, “Why were we created?” We were created to “praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save our soul (O’Brien 67).” To attain this, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things. How do we do that?!
St. Ignatius wrote that, “In everyday life we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some responsibility [like earning money to pay the bills]. Consequently, on our own part we ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one, and so on to all other matters. Rather, we ought to desire and choose only that which is more conducive to the end for which we are created.” Said another way, and I love this wisdom, “our only desire…should be this: I want, and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me (O’Brien 67-68)”.
That is the Christian world view in a nutshell. The greatest good of everything we see and experience in this world is how it helps us to strive to draw closer to Jesus, who is the narrow gate.
The next three saints’ lives give us examples of Ignatius’s wisdom in practice.
Maybe no mere human demonstrated this world view better than St. Francis of Assisi. His detachment from possessions and ego are legendary. Bishop Barron said that St. Francis was the most powerful man in his day, for no one could cause him distress. If someone took his shirt, he would give them his pants too. If they insulted him, he would agree with them, and one up them, insulting himself even more. His detachment from his ego and his material possessions freed him to love Jesus and neighbor. Was he a lesser man from such radical detachment? No. We still admire him, study his life, put his statue in our gardens, and seek his prayers eight hundred years after his death.
Our third saint, Teresa of Avila, in her book, Way of Perfection, touches upon the three pillars of last week’s and today’s homilies. She emphasized, “three essential virtues that are the foundation of the Prayer of the Heart; humility, love of one another, and detachment.” She said that love of neighbor is enabled by our detachment from all material goods and makes us free for the service of the Kingdom. She was echoing Jesus in today’s gospel when He said, “whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Jn 14:33).”
Our mystery saint’s life shows us the wisdom of “seeking first the kingdom of God and all His righteousness,” for then all the things we want were given to this saint (Mt 6:33). Despite being an athlete, an actor, an outdoorsman, and accomplished scholar, he exemplified humility and detachment. He lived Ignatius’s Foundation and Principle. He chose a short life but was given a long one. He chose poverty but was given wealth. He chose a low place of service but met with world leaders and hundreds of thousands flocked to hear and see him. He chose peace but destroyed the powerful who chose violence. Who was this?
It was St. Pope John Paul II. He chose to become a priest when the penalty for doing so was death. He slept on the floor and wore a tattered cassock and gave away fancy gifts parishioners gave him. The only nice things he kept were his outdoors equipment that he could use to take the youth on hiking and skiing trips, where he taught them the Gospel to counteract the immoral teachings in the atheist communist schools. He did not seek advancement, but he was made bishop and eventually Pope. As pope, when greeting a large crowd, he often walked past the rich, famous, and powerful to hug and to bless the poor, especially moms. He did not promote violence to overthrow the communists who oppressed his beloved Poland, but he strengthened the people’s faith in God through the Catholic Church. Unified in their Catholic faith, his people gained their freedom. Detachment was so powerful and so transformative for John Paul because through it he let go and let God.
Here are some closing thoughts. A sign that detachment is working in our lives is a sense of peace about who we are and about the choices we make. I had a tiny success in practicing detachment in my own life and pray I have many more. I was disconcerted about my hair loss, my greying beard, and my declining strength and health. But then I practiced some spiritual judo and started thanking God for those things. The grace from thanking God for these signs of aging transformed them from curses to try to escape to gifts that bring joy. Wrinkles, a greying beard, and declining strength are the wrapping paper around the gifts of getting to see my grandkids, of growing in friendship with our adult children, and now that they are grown, to relearning how to be my wife’s romantic best friend.
In other words, I am learning from looking back over my life, reading about the lives of the saints, and from the saintly example of many of you to trust that God loves me and actively takes care of me. This trust enables us to detach ourselves from grasping and striving for beauty, money, power, pleasure, and honor. Once detached, we can choose the one thing that matters, keeping Jesus first in our lives.
Lord Jesus, help us to let go of our way and our stuff, that we may love You first and then others as ourself. Amen.
Citations for Further Reading
Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Bar 5:1-9 / Ps 126 / Phil 1:4-6, 8-11 / Lk 3:1-6
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The season of Advent is a time for us to prepare our hearts for Christmas. In our gospel today, on this second Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist preparing the people for the coming of Jesus, a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.” (Lk 3:4). We hear these familiar words of John the Baptist calling all people to conversion.
Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our second reading today, reminds us of three wonderful things. First, Saint Paul reminds us of the joy of the Lord. (more…)KEEP READING
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 25, 2021 — Year B
Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42-44 / Ps 145 / Eph 4:1-6 / Jn 6:1-15
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
A well-known pastor and faith healer traveled around the country, going to various places, and doing revivals. He came to town and he set up shop in a local church, and people came from all over the countryside, because they had heard of him. He started his service, and people lined up to experience the healing that this man purportedly offered. (more…)KEEP READING
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
June 6, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Ex 24:3-8 / Ps 116 / Heb 9:11-15 / Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
by Rev. Salvador Añonuevo, Pastor
Yesterday, one of the headlines was about Cathy Boone, a 49-year-old homeless woman in Oregon. She died last January with nothing. She was homeless, no family, no friends. But they discovered after her death that she actually had inherited close to $900,000 from her mother. The state had tried to get in touch with her. Somehow she was estranged from the family when her mother died, and she just lost it. Her life had been spiraling downward. So she died penniless and homeless, and yet she had actually inherited almost a million dollars. (more…)KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 9, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 / Ps 98 / 1 Jn 4:7-10 / Jn 15:9-17
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Most of you who know me know also that my wife is a middle school music teacher. She normally teaches Chorus and Music Appreciation, but this year it has been exclusively Music Appreciation. She teaches 6th graders, so you can imagine that some of them don’t have the best attitude going into it. (more…)KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 14, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Lv 13:1-2, 44-46 / Ps 32 / 1 Cor 10:31-11:1 / Mk 1:40-45
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
Today, we have another of Jesus’ early miracles—the healing of the leper. The idea of miracles can be a contentious topic. A lot of people have a hard time believing in miracles. It’s not just something that is going on in our day and time. Famously, Thomas Jefferson had a problem with it, so much so, that he took a razor blade and cut out from the Gospels any hints of Jesus’s divinity or anything to do with miracles. (more…)KEEP READING