Holy Hour

Every Saturday in Lent we will have a Holy Hour beginning at 4:00 p.m. followed by Vespers and Benediction at 5:00 p.m. Holy Hour is a time of meditation and prayer in silence before the Blessed Sacrament.

Additionally during Lent, Private Confession will be available from 4-5 on Saturdays.

Read More

The Other Guy

Matthew 20.1-16

The parable that Jesus tells is not about the other guy. It’s about you. But like the laborers in the story, we are too often focused on the other guy: the time she put in, the work he did, the amount they were paid. And we do that—we focus on the other guy—to compare them with me to make sure I’m being treated fairly, and not missing out, and not over working or spinning my wheels.

We do that a lot. Focus on the other guy. And we do that to deflect and ignore. To deflect what we know is right. And to ignore an authentic, sincere deep dive into our own heart and soul. We promise a firm intention to amend. But then we look at the other guy, and compare ourselves to her or him to make sure we’re ahead or, worse yet, not doing too much.

And this may be why we avoid Private Confession. Or why, when we do go, we mouth the words to amend but don’t do the necessary hard work to get there. Because we’re looking at the other guy, and saying: “He goes to confession but is not acting better.” “She doesn’t seem to be worse off by skipping that Sacrament.”

But it’s not about the other guy. The parable is about you: that you’re doing the back-breaking work of digging out the weeds that are choking your life in God, that you’re nurturing the virtues while cutting out the vices, that you’re eager to amend by making amends, that you’re productive at producing the fruit of good works for others, and that you’re single-minded in working toward the end of the day.

St Paul helps us see this when he gives us another metaphor. The Christian life is a race. A race that you run, not by looking over your shoulder, not by seeing how the other guy is doing—but a race where you run to receive the prize, the reward. And to do that, you need to master your urges, and make sacrifices to be in shape, to be fit, not just to run but also to finish. Looking at the other guy’s workouts, trying to match what you do to what he’s doing—that will make you lose focus.

And that was the downfall of the children of Israel. After they were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; after they all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink—after the were fed by God and communed with Him—then they lost focus. Their focus was no longer about getting to the Promised Land. Their focus was on the other guy—what the Egyptians had, how the guy next to them was misbehaving, how scary the Canaanites might be, and what the golden calf could do for them.

The parable is about you. And most specifically, it is about what the Lord gives you. Not what He’s giving the other guy. But what He is giving you. He brought you into His family. He showed you what was good for your salvation. He offered you His kindness. He promised a share of His wealth. He focused on you.

The parable is about you. Most specifically, it is about what the Lord gives you. Not what He’s giving the other guy.

So our concentration, our attention, our aim, our focus should be on Our Lord and His gifts. Not the other guy. But on what Our Lord is doing, giving, and holding out. For you.

Our ambition should be single-minded: to make use of and live up to the grace that the Lord gives us.

For the mercy and kindness, the love and grace of Our Lord—that’s the overarching point of the parable. That the Lord gives you what is His. That He is good to you. That He lavishly offers, presents, and confers on you something you not only don’t deserve, but something you have no chance of getting without Him reaching out to you and welcoming you and setting you at His side.

The mercy and kindness, the love and grace of Our Lord—you miss that and devalue it if you’re fixed on the other guy, and wanting to make sure you’re getting yours.

Our Lord’s mercy follows no straight line. The moment He sees a way open for forgiveness, for dispensing grace, for administering His healing, He does not hesitate. And He does the unexpected—on purpose, for your sake, even at the risk of upsetting what we think fairness should look like. For His justice does not fit our ideas of justice. And His mercy exceeds our expectations.

So, Our Father benevolently, abundantly, and undeservedly gives you His best for you. He offers you exactly what is good for you, what fits you, what helps your life now and your life to come. You can call it your wage or reward or prize. In either case, it’s suited specifically for you. It’s the compassion from Him that you need to actually make good on your promise to amend; and your desire to finish well; and your longing to be who He designed you to be—one of His own, intimately partaking of His divine nature.

For Our Lord’s focus is not on the other guy. He looks you and me in the eye—He sees each one of us without looking at the other guy—and says plainly and determinedly, “Given and shed for you; for the remission of your sins; so that you may have life in and through Me.”

Let us run this Lent, then, not focusing on the other guy, wondering whether he’s getting more or better or further. And let’s certainly not wonder about what kind of deal God is giving us. Instead, let us this Lent lay aside every earthly care, and every sin which clings so closely, so that each one might run with resolve and single-mindedness the race that is set before him, looking at Jesus, who is author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him turned neither left nor right, but endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, ready to embrace us and give us more than we either desire or deserve. To whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

Read More

Releasing Savory Faith

Homily for Epiphany VI

These days our faith is tried. I’m not talking, specifically, about these days when we are together enduring a pandemic; or these days when we need to worship outdoors; or these days when we need to confront our own subtle prejudices; or these days when we feel as if we cannot give voice to the morality that is inseparable from the Christ we love.

These days when our faith is tried are the days since Our Lord’s crucifixion; the days since His Ascension; the days since the descent of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire.

For while the devil certainly takes advantage of pandemics and unrest and church-distancing, that’s not his end game. His end game is to separate us from the intimate union, the bond of love, and the confidence and hope that we were given in Baptism, that is fed into us in the Eucharist, and that warms us every time we hear Our Lord’s absolution. The devil conspires with our basest desires and is cheered on by those whose god is their feelings. He conspires with them to make us wonder, and question, and think that God is distant or uninvolved or focused on others. And that God’s justice is hardly just.

The devil’s end game is to drive a wedge between us and Our Lord by driving a wedge between you and me; and by getting me to think that my prayers are nothing; and by getting us to be anxious about everything except skipping Mass and losing faith.

The devil’s end game is to drive a wedge between us and Our Lord by getting us to be anxious about everything except skipping Mass and losing faith.

That is how our faith is tried these days. And why we need to rejoice—yes, be glad about—and make use of today’s aggravations. For the things we find so irksome—pandemics, unrest, politics, meanness, being silenced and feeling hemmed in—these things truly do bruise and try us. And they work hard to crush us. But a mustard seed is not really true to itself, a mustard seed really doesn’t awaken, a mustard seed doesn’t show its true value—until it is bruised and crushed.

Today, Our Lord compares the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. And are we not citizens in that kingdom—a kingdom founded by the one who was bruised for our iniquities; crushed for our transgressions; and buried because we hid from Him? And yet, that all released a life full of vitality, and a vigorous mercy that we wish to live toward others. Like the mustard seed which, when planted, grows sturdy branches and brings forth many seeds, so our battered, hard-pressed, buried Lord arises to grow the holy Church made strong and true by His love.

In another place Our Lord compares faith to a mustard seed. Once again, the vigor of our faith relies not on our determination, but on the Lord planted and buried within us. For, like the mustard seed, Christ is planted in us and then comes alive, producing in us greater confidence, hope, and love.

The vitality of Christ growing the kingdom of His love in you and me is released when we are squeezed, compressed, and bruised by the many disordered desires within, and the many pressures from without.

This vitality—of Christ growing the kingdom of His love in you and me—this is released when we are squeezed and compressed and bruised by the many disordered desires within, and the many pressures from without. For faith and is a living force, strong and sure, when we are left with nothing else but God’s love for us. So, if we let it, if we can keep our orientation, if we don’t lose hope but hold to Christ, then we can see that these stresses and forces release a greater, more excellent faith.

Many times, our faith can seem simple and innocuous. Perhaps it feels even vague and indefinable. But when our faith is bruised by its enemies, when it is pushed to a breaking point, then faith can come alive—if we only let it. Then it proves its value and power—if we don’t hide it in a cupboard or toss it out on hard-hearted cement or bury it in sugary sentimentality.

The things that test our faith—the doubts and fears, the desire to give up or to give into our worst self—these things can actually release the sweet aroma of our life in God.

The things that test our faith—the doubts and fears, the desire to give up or to give into our worst self—these things can actually release the sweet aroma of our life in God. Very much like the incense we use at Mass. In the canister, in the plastic box, the incense is inert. But when it is placed on a burning coal, then its full fragrance, both spicy and sweet, disperses throughout the room and wafts even quite a ways outdoors. And that scent sticks to us, announcing that we’ve been to Mass because we smell as Christ did when He arose from the tomb.

Holy Valentine, whom we commemorate today, shows us what the robust energy and aroma in the mustard seed looks like when it is released because of hardship. For when the executioner came, and he bowed his neck, and was decapitated in malice—then Love Himself was diffused to the ends of the world so that, to this day, we connect St Valentine with love: the love that ultimately must emanate from God: for God is love.

Like many martyrs—and even like us in these days—Holy Valentine was “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—carrying in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our bodies.” And by his martyric death, by his willingness to sacrifice all for the sake of Christ, by his desire to let his hope in God outweigh the threats of others—St Valentine shows us that “that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.”

The mustard seed reveals the transcendent power of God. For which of us would have ever considered, on our own, that such a tiny object could both be a tree housing birds and add savory energy to our food? Yet in that seed is hidden a truth that has existed since before time—namely, that when we are pushed yet remain strong to Our Lord’s love, then we begin to become the humans we were designed to be.

May our Father grant us such strength and courage; by the prayers of Holy Valentine and of all the saints.

14 February 2021

Read More

The Long View

Candlemas Homily
Luke 2.22-32

Wise and aged Anna had a long view of all the events, rumors, conspiracies, and politics that swirled around her. It’s not that she was unaware or unconcerned. She simply did not let them control her. She refused to let everything out there define her values and her faith. And she would not let anything determine her outlook, except what she heard and sang and meditated on in the church’s liturgy. This woman, who had been a widow for 84 years, had a long view. Her focus was on her life in God.

Let our heart’s deepest desire be to develop and nurture the long view that we see in Simeon and Anna.

The old man Simeon also had a long view. Like Anna, he was too enwrapped and attentive in prayer to be anxious about worldly affairs. Not that he was uncaring or callous. But he left all in the hands of our heavenly Father, who knows better than all women and men how things should and will play out.

More than that, old Simeon with Anna believed that their prayers were more important than any worldly strategies. They were firmly convinced that fervent, heartfelt, and faithful attendance to God and His holy Word would bring about the consolation of Israel and the furtherance both of salvation and of intimate union between God and the world. Their long view, then, was not limited to humanity. Their long view aimed at the restoration of every created thing. Not fairness and rights, but creation’s recreation and renovation—that is what Simeon was justly and devoutly awaiting; what he desired with his prayers; and what he hoped to see when he looked into the face of the Lord’s Christ.

I’m inspired that the gift of seeing God in infant flesh is granted to a woman and a man who, from their youth, mastered their lust and other enervating passions. These two, who mastered and disciplined the needs that chase away our long view—they are the first, after Mary and Joseph, to hold God Himself in their arms. Among other things, this means that Our Lord truly desires our undivided focus. And that He will expand the fullness of the grace He is, within the hearts and minds, the bodies and souls, of those who can deny what everything else declaims to be so necessary, so important, so human.

Our humanity is found solely within this holy Child. Our true identity is inseparable from this son of the Virgin. Our longings are gratified and blossom to their utmost as we behold, and hold, and fix the attention of every hope on this One by whom the thoughts of many hearts are revealed.

Here, then, is what Simeon and Anna see: the One who gives hope to the hopeless, life to the lifeless, love to the unloved, and enduring friendship to the lonely.

This Boy Jesus is truly the light who enlightens our darkened minds. Minds made gloomy, dismal, and pessimistic by the anger that swirls around us; the doubts in us about how the world will go; and the urgings to live life to the fullest. These distractions from the life well lived in Christ—these chase us into the shadows, and away from the warming effects of Christ’s love.

Life can be lived confidently and fearlessly only in the light of Christ; when we embrace God’s wise commandments; and when we hold God’s loving-kindness tightly so that our hearts beat quicker and glow again, as they did when we first emerged from the baptismal font.

Life can be lived confidently and fearlessly only in the light of Christ; when we embrace God’s wise commandments; and when we hold God’s loving-kindness tightly so that our hearts beat quicker and glow again, as they did when we first emerged from the baptismal font. Then, and again now, the Sun of Righteousness illumines not only the darkness we need to shake, but also thaws and melts our fears so that we can pursue our the Father who is truly merciful.

Through this warming and brilliant love, Christ is the ‘light to lighten the Gentiles.’ He helps our diverse people see that His love matters most, and that His mercy exceeds both our tendency to judge and our limited ideas of who is in the right. And He lights your way—so that you can see God in the midst of turmoil; and so that others may glorify Him when they see your good works and hear your edifying speech. For in the light which Our Lord is, we are drawn into His long view—to love us in a way that strengthens who we truly are, and allows us to be Him to others.

Because Simeon & Anna have a long view, they hunger and thirst only for righteousness; and they know that things heavenly amplify things earthly. This is why they voice their desire to rest in peace on that day, in that moment. For when they saw the 40-day old Christ, they glimpsed heaven and saw the face of God. And with that, they saw the purpose and conclusion of their earthly prayers and all their good works.

As we witness Simeon and Anna’s encounter with the incarnate God, as we hear of others who have been graced with similar contact with God, we may wonder why we are not given a comparable experience—a tangible meeting with God that gives us true perspective, that chases away our worries, that lets us taste and feel our hope, that rivets our attention. For won’t our disquiet dissipate, and our faith come alive if we, too, get to see and hold God?

Yet we have something greater than these saints from time past. While they hugged the Christ Child to their chest, we receive Him our very being—knitted to our flesh and coursing through our veins. Their hearts figuratively embraced Him. Our hearts may literally encase Him. And in doing so we get to be—what does St Paul say—members of his body:of his flesh and of his bones.

In the Eucharist, we go beyond a visual encounter with God. Our intimacy with God in Christ soaks into our bones, and settles into the marrow of our soul. And from deep within begins our redemption, our salvation, our renewal, and our union with God.

For life in God to mature and intensify, for it to become anything close to what Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, and other saints had—we must not let the cares and occupations of this life overwhelm us. Instead, let our heart’s deepest desire be to develop and nurture the long view that we see in Simeon and Anna.

That begins as we take in our blessed Jesus in Holy Communion. As we take Him up, let us bless God and say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

Through the prayers of his saints, ancient and modern, may God grant us such faith, hope, and love; to whom belongs all glory: world without end.

7 February 2021

Read More

When the Good Do Nothing

Matthew 8.1-13
Epiphany IV

Jesus’ words to the disciples seem rather harsh. They’ve just had a harrowing experience, their life has been in jeopardy, they’ve tried to manage things without bothering Jesus. And He calls them, “men of little faith.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if some took offense at these words. For “little faith” doesn’t sound kind or nice. It sounds like they failed.

If they failed, it was because they were trying to shoulder too much. Because they saw another man instead of their Savior. Because they were so wrapped up in their fear, in their anxiety, that they forgot that God Himself was actually in the boat with them.

The disciples were so wrapped up in their anxiety that they forgot that God Himself was actually in the boat with them.

Our anxiety level ramps up when we feel we’ve lost control. And we can’t see what will happen next. And things are not going as they should or as we expect. And those in charge are losing their heads. And nothing we do seems to work. And we know who to blame when things go wrong. And we’re sure there’s nothing left to do except leave; or yell; or hide; or get ready for the worst.

The breaking point is when we feel threatened: our life, our way of living, our view of the world; our understanding of God.

What can calm us and dial down our anxiety, fears, and tension is remembering that God is in the boat with us. And He always gets His way; His will is done even when it doesn’t look like it; and, most of all, Our Lord arranges everything—even the worst, the uncomfortable, and the storms—all of this He arranges, in some way, for our salvation. And what do you know: He never consults us, asking our thoughts about what to do or how things should go. Our Lord simply knows best and does best.

That’s what the disciples in today’s Gospel forgot. The gentle, scenic boat ride across the lake that they planned—that fell apart and caused great anxiety when a storm arose. They focused on the waves, the wind, the storm. Like so many of us, they were anxious about what they could not at all control. And they forgot that the Lord was with them, that He wasn’t ignoring them, and that He would deliver them. And when they finally remembered the Lord, they did not calm down or pray to Him or trust that He knew what was going on. Instead, they frantically yelled at Him, certain that He was deliberately uncaring.

Notice what the disciples say: “Save us, because we are dying!” What a contradiction. On the one hand, they believe that only Christ can save them. On the other hand, they are sure that they will die. It’s as if they are using more extreme words in order to get His attention. Because He isn’t acting quickly enough. But instead, they are showing the weakness of their faith; that they’re not really sure that He will save them from death.

What should they have said? “Lord, Thou rulest the raging of the sea; thou stillest the waves thereof when they arise. Even there also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Then shall my night be turned to day. Indeed, my darkness is not darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day. Therefore, I should fear no evil. For thou, Lord, holdest me in the hollow of thy hand, and will deliver us from every evil past, present, and to come.”

Easy words to think. Hard words to say, especially when we’re imprisoned in our anxiety. But necessary words to pray, if we wish Our Lord Jesus truly to calm, establish, strengthen, and settle us.

The holy fathers consistently teach that this storm on the lake is a true metaphor for all the things that make us anxious. Rarely are we anxious because things go as we think and in the way we plan. Most often we’re anxious about things we can’t control—events half a continent away; things we see on social media; breathless news reports; algorithms designed to incite our passions; and people who irritate or are mean-spirited. When that is our focus, we can’t see what is right in front of us: the persons who love us, the kindness given to us, the daily things that we have that we take for granted.

When we’re anxious and afraid, we are convinced the Lord has forgotten us or left us to shoulder the worst. So easily do we forget God. So easily do we think He’s part of the problem by not taking action. So easily do we believe that evil men are triumphing because the Good One is doing nothing.

So easily do we believe that evil men are triumphing because the Good One is doing nothing.

Our Lord is good even when He looks like He’s doing nothing. For even asleep Our Lord works for our good. And urges us to look beyond what frightens to see what is real. And what is real? Consider these words from our holy father John Chrysostom:

What are we to fear? Death? To live is Christ, and to die is gain. Should I fear exile? ‘The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.’ What about the confiscation of what I have? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.

I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.

For Our Lord has placed in us a hope that exceeds our fears, an expectation that dissipates our worries, an aspiration for the life to come which surpasses everything, good and bad, that we experience in this life. He places into our mouths His own flesh and blood, which has already taken down the worst we could know; and which converts the evil we endure into a love and kindness that sustains us. But above all, like the scared disciples in the boat and by their prayers, may we learn to know that Our Lord is always present, never absent; and that He will never leave us nor forsake us. To whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

31 January 2021

Read More

Easy It Is Not

Matthew 8.1-13
A homily for Epiphany III

Being Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t comfortable or convenient. And, for millions throughout history, being Christian has not been safe.

That’s what St Paul told St Timothy, whom we commemorate today. When Timothy was a teen, in his hometown St Paul was nearly stoned to death and then dragged from the city. Yet at that time the holy Apostle strengthened the shocked and frightened disciples and urged them to continue in the faith with these words: “Through many tribulations, we enter the kingdom of God.”

Let’s not go too quickly past those words. Paul says that the only way into the kingdom of heaven is through tribulation. But like St Paul, we shouldn’t focus on what others do to us, but on what Our Lord does for us; not with what we have to put up with, but what Our Lord gives us; and not zeroing in on the adversity but on the deliverance. St Paul sums up our life when he says: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

All means all. As St Ambrose reminds us: “All suffer persecution. There is no exception. Who can claim an exemption if the Lord Himself endured the testing of persecution” for our good? “There are many today who are secret martyrs for Christ,” who suffer persecution without protest or resistance because they know they model Christ and witness to faith by enduring injustice without complaint.

But visible persecution is not the only kind. Whenever we are tempted to give in to our ungodly desires, whenever our minds tell us to give up, whenever we avoid the hard path of prayer and holy living, of forgiveness and kind-speaking—then we are being persecuted invisibly. By the devil, and by our own flesh. For “the devil directs his many servants in their work of persecution…in the souls of individuals.” (St Ambrose)

Christianity isn’t easy. But we can see Our Lord’s glory while staring at the gory; and want Our Lord’s body and blood while seeing what it cost to bring it to this altar; and know that the Lord comes through when you can’t feel it. Because we understand that Christians walk in the path Jesus walked, following the Way He is—through suffering into glory, through death into life, through hell into heaven.

To be a Christian we need look at now through the lens of later; at what threatens by seeing what awaits us; at how much it asks by receiving how much Christ gives.

That takes faith. A faith that doesn’t lie down when things get tough. A faith that doesn’t give up when it feels defeated. And a faith that can swallow pride, and sacrifice what we are sure is necessary and right and good—even a faith that sacrifices our own carefully crafted identity.

But above all, being Christian means we look to Christ. Knowing that He alone can get us through. He alone can undo what’s been done to us, and untangle what we’ve done to ourselves. He alone is our help and our salvation.

That kind of faith requires humility. The humility that says, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” The humility that says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” And the humility that says, “Lord, I am not worthy.”

Some may see that not as humility, but as humiliation. Not as faith, but as groveling. Not as strength but as weakness.

Humility makes sense to a man suffering a debilitating disease, a man who has no hope, a man who is desperate; a man who is ostracized because he is a leper in Judaea. Yet even this man must humble himself to cry out to Christ. For pride says, “No one can help. All is hopeless. I’m cursed. Nothing will work.” Pride believes those words because pride makes us look only at ourselves—how much I hurt, what I can’t do, why no one meets my fears.

But humility says, “Lord, if you are willing.” Humility places everything in the Lord’s hand, knowing that He hears the cry of the poor and needy. And so, when life is hardest, we can say in true humility: “Despite my comforts, I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me. Thou art my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. Make haste to me, O God!” (Ps 39, 69)

How quickly Our Lord comes to our aid! For “He delivers the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper.” (Ps 71) And so, without fear of contagion, Our Lord touches the leper and says, “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

We can understand the desperation of the poor and needy, the helpless and bed ridden. But a commander; a man who can run roughshod over people; a man who has servants; a man who is certainly privileged and among the elite—can he truly humble himself? Can he honestly say, “I am not worthy”?

Yet that is exactly what we must say. Not ordering God by our prayers, as if He is our servant who waits on us. Instead, we ought to pray this prayer: “Lord, I am not worthy. Have mercy on me. Help me because I cannot help myself, or anyone else. You know far better what is best for me—even if it is best that we stay as we are for many days, weeks, or months. I am not worthy to tell you how things should go. So only speak a word, and I shall trust that what you say is truth, what you give is health.”

That is the humility of the centurion. Yet it’s not easy to deny and put to death our instinct and passion, to control, to be impatient, to whine, and to protest and insist. And it’s not easy to refuse ourselves the pleasures we are sure we deserve, and the rights we know we’ve earned.

Yet being a Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t about comfort or convenience. And, it’s not about having no more rough times, no more worries, no more problems.

Being Christian means we need to confess our pride, repent of our complaining, and see that in every kind of ordeal, temporary or permanent, God hides His grace and calls us to a “new normal of greater piety, increased participation in the sacraments, and more love and service to our neighbor.” (Metropolitan Joseph)

But above all, being Christian means humbly accepting Our Lord’s will, trusting that He is arranging things—even pandemics and politics—for our salvation. And there’s the joy—that He is always there, always pulling us through, always doing what is best, and always leading us deeper into His love.

To this Lord Jesus Christ, by the prayers of St Timothy and of all the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

This way was blazed first by Our Lord, not just when He died, but even as He put up with the traps and restrictions of His own people. Let me be clear: Christ’s suffering does not mean that we won’t suffer, any more than His death and burial means we won’t die and be buried. What His passion does mean is that dealing with hard times is inseparable from the Christian life; and tribulation is our path to true intimacy with Our Lord God. Like any love story, real relationships grow and strengthen only when we work together through trying times.

24 January 2021

Read More

On the Third Day

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Again, we have reached the third day. The day of resurrection. The day when crushed and shattered is fear—fear of life, fear in living, fear of death. Fear is Satan’s only weapon, yet a Stronger One than he has taken it from him. So let’s not go sniffing around for it, or try to reassemble it, or think that fear has something to do with us. The third day says things that worry us to death and things that paralyze our life—these fears no longer need to captivate and control our thinking, our living, our spirit.

Because it’s the third day. The day when life is restored, when hope is renewed, when faith is strengthened, when love chases away all contention and grief. It’s the day when all anxiety, all dread, all panic, is lifted from our shoulders, and placed on the back of Him who came to bear, and is able to bury all our fears.

Why do I keep saying that ‘it’s the third day’? Because the Holy Evangelist John tells us that on the third day Jesus first publicly displayed His glory—a beginning sign that would culminate in His greatest glory: dying our death, defeating our enemy, and pouring over us, and into us, the love which flows from His Sacred Heart into our font and into our chalice.

Recall St John’s words: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

Now this event is not just about Jesus proving He is capable by changing water into wine. He deliberately chooses a wedding. Because weddings are where two, who are unlike, are fitted together in the mystery of love in order to produce, between them, a third person. Only at Cana, it’s about more than a natural marriage. At Cana, it’s about Christ the Bridegroom, fitted by His unlimited love to His Bride the Church, in order to produce you and me as children of God. And it’s about the uncreated God being fitted to a created body so that God might be able to live in us, and we can live in Him and His home with His Father.

That’s the glory Jesus is manifesting, displaying, and making openly known. It’s His glory. But it’s really our glory. Because Our Lord glories in giving us what is His.

Think about it: Our Blessed Jesus does the miraculous not so people glorify Him—He really doesn’t live for glory. He is beginning to show us what will make for our glory—that we are being fitted and enabled to live in His glory, without being overcome or overwhelmed. For what happens when we get too close to the sun in the sky? And yet now, at Cana, Christ is helping us see that when we approach this Son, we can live with and be embraced by the Son and His Father without their holiness obliterating us.

It’s our glory that Jesus, at Cana, is beginning to unpack. At the wedding, with the miracle, He starts saying that we will be united to Him, and in Him. Which means we can get as close to God as children to their parents; as husbands to their wives—without any fear that we’ll be mistreated or exploited or objectified or, worse yet, ignored.

But to be united in the family of the Blessed Trinity, there must first be a change. A change initiated by Christ. A change for the better. A change that repurposes who we are and how we live.

The water at the wedding was repurposed. Remarkably. It became something else, while keeping its key characteristic. The water was changed into wine, while still remaining a drinkable liquid. A better drink, but not so good that it couldn’t be handled, or had to be shelved and only admired.

The water was changed. Just as Christ’s blood would be changed so that it could be diffused, dispersed, and disseminated throughout all places in all centuries. For the blood of Jesus was watery when it flowed from Jesus’ pierced side. Yet it was for the best. For that blood, which is now in the baptismal water—that is the stuff of our birth in God: when we were born not from human bloodshed, nor from fleshly desires, nor of the passions of humans, but from and by and for God.

Born of God because Jesus changes His blood into water. Just as He changed water into wine. Different and better, in order to liven us up. Different and better, so that we might no longer wonder if there’s enough. Different and better, so that we might enter into the joy of the Lord at the wedding Feast of the Lamb of God in His never-ending kingdom.

All this, because it is the third day. For on the third day, He rose again from the dead. Which means that now the graves become gateways to heaven; and the sea must give up its dead, and Death and Hades must deliver the dead back to God.

That third day: it’s the day Jesus is found in the temple doing His Father’s business; and now the day Jesus changes water into wine. But these all point to that day which changes our lives forever—the day when we shall no longer sleep, but shall be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

That change, that transubstantiation of water into wine, like water and wine into the Lord’s life-giving blood—that change is what Christ Jesus manifests to us and for us ‘on the third day.’

Today is the third day. The day when we get to lay aside all earthly cares, and enter into the mystical union, the wedding feast. It’s the day when we get to draw so very near to God Himself as we take into our mouth and being Christ’s very own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. And so this third day is the day when we can begin to believe and take to heart that all that frightens, all that makes us uneasy, all that distracts, all that weighs heavily in us—all of that has, this day, been done away in us and for us by Him who came simply to glorify us so that, by the prayers and merits of the Saints, we might live unscathed with His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit: throughout all ages of ages.

17 January 2021

Read More

Looking Past the Herods

Matthew 2.42-52

On Wednesday night we were likely distracted by a leader obsessed with power trying desperately to ward off the chosen and rightful ruler. Like many after him, even to the present day, this monarch refused to believe the truth. He consulted with advisors who either supported his distorted views, or lost courage and would not stand up to him. In either case, King Herod twisted their reports for his own purpose, and, in the end, he orchestrated violence to get his way.

The rapid flow of events caused great anxiety. The news reports stated that all were troubled. And the unrest and apprehension were deliberately fueled by the panic of a narcissistic Machiavelli in order to divert our attention away from Truth.

Where were we when we heard about this? Were we wringing our hands in fear, or kneeling in prayer? Were we focused on the fighting, or asking for God’s mercy? Were we huddled in our homes, or standing with the Magi?

The Magi did not deny reality or hide their heads in the sand when Herod became unglued and tried to wipe out our King. Neither did the Magi get caught up in the country’s anxiety, and resort simply to more talk. Instead, they did what they came to do, what we are designed to do, and what is undoubtedly the best course of action when everything is in chaos. “They fell down and worshipped” the Lord Jesus. For these wise men knew two things for certain:

  • First, Herods, both old and new, succeed only when they ramp up our fear and distract us from gathering where Christ is laid out for us; and
  • Second, worshipping Christ by prayer and receiving His gifts actually resists evil better than anything else.

So, the Magi were not uncaring cowards. In their wisdom, they firmly believed that no human resources—no legal actions, no might, not better leaders—none of these could stem men bent on riding out their selfish ambitions. What is needed—what is always needed—is for us to tear ourselves away from Satan’s only weapon—fear of the end—and flee for refuge to the hope—the only true and real hope—which is set before us in Christ on the altar.

Wise women and wise men look past what we can’t control and what is used to distance us from the person and gifts the Lord has placed in front of us. Wise women and wise men fix their hearts and minds on the truth

  • that our Lord God has already taken our flesh through the worst;
  • that in our flesh He has overcome every evil past, present, and to come; and
  • that by His Sacraments He places in our mouths and ears true courage, sure hope, and real strength.

Twelve years after the violence incited by Herod, panic and anxiety arise once again. This time in the hearts of a married Holy Couple. They are distressed and suffering acutely because they cannot locate their only Son. Some years earlier the Holy Mother of God had heard from Simeon that the Christ Child would cause sorrow that would pierce her own soul. Now, she plainly tells her Son that they have sought Him sorrowing. Blessed Joseph and Mary were afraid that they had lost their most precious Child. And they fear that they have negligently guarded Him as they noticed that He was no longer with them.

Without a doubt, they must wonder if they have lost God. Or if He has abandoned them. Perhaps they think that God has taken back His promise, His pledge to be with them, His vow to save them from themselves, and to deliver all people from their self-pleasing, self-chosen worship.

From our vantage point, the scene may look comical. An old man and a young mother scurrying around the city, looking in taverns and hotels, searching diligently for a twelve-year old whom they have somehow misplaced because they assumed He was where they thought He should be. In their frantic questions among relatives and acquaintances, in their frenetic search for the Son of God, they are convinced that this Child has purposefully grieved them. Certainly, from their perspective, the Christ has sorrowed them, piercing their souls.

They find the Holy Child on the third day. Of course it is the third day—the day when life is restored, when hope is renewed, when faith is strengthened, when love chases away all sorrow and grief. The third day is also the day when all the evil schemes, all the alternate truths of power-hungry leaders, all the devilish tricks, all the delusions of my narrative—the third day is the day all of that is exposed and undone. Because on the third day Truth reveals Himself fully.

So on the third day, Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus where they should have looked in the first place—in the place of sacrifice surrounded by the sacrificers and perhaps even some of the very men who would clamor for His death twenty years later.

No doubt, this is why Mary and Joseph are amazed and astonished. It was not merely that they finally found Him, but also where they found Him—and what the Spirit helped them see. For in that tableau of Christ in the temple, the Blessed Virgin and her Holy Spouse saw more than a precocious Child. They saw His passion and the means of His death. But they also saw where this would lead—to our redemption which flows from His Sacred Heart into the Chalice sitting on our altar.

Mary and Joseph are astonished and amazed. Not in shock but in joy; not in disbelief but in faith; not in relief that they have found Him, but in beholding how He will help them find their way to His Father.

When we don’t recall where Christ is leading us; when we are convinced that everything rests on our choices; when we invest time and energy in proud and scheming leaders; when we forget to find Christ where He always is—in His temple at His altar; and when we can’t remember or see that the Lord’s will is always done, usually in the most surprising ways—then it’s easy for us to let our anxiety take over; easy for us to ride our frenzied emotions in a frantic quest, as Mary and Joseph did for three days.

But now we have reached the third day: the day when we get to participate with the Holy Parents in their astonishment at seeing the benefits of their Son’s impending sacrifice. And this is the Father’s business.

So instead of getting caught up in the machinations of feckless leaders, let us surrender our anxiety to the God-Man who has always been about His Father’s business. And let us marvel and take to heart that Our Lord, even as a little boy, urges us to look up, to lift up our hearts, and to look ahead and to contemplate not the business of others, or our own busy-ness, but His Father’s business. Even if His words are hard to understand and even harder to live, let us trust Our Lord enough to subject our desires, deeds, and words to His wisdom and care. For He truly cares for us: to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

The First Sunday after the Epiphany
10 January 2021

Read More

Star & Cruelty Proclaiming Christ

Epiphany Day Homily

While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the almighty Word of God leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed. Yet this mighty Word of God was made known only to the believing at first. The Virgin Mother and her holy Spouse, and the shepherds who heeded and trusted the angels. But, on that first Christmas, Our Lord hid Himself from the unbelieving—from King Herod, from the citizens of Jerusalem, and from Joseph’s own family who had rejected him and forced his pregnant wife into a stable.

Yet today the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament reveals His handiwork. For the proclamation of His Epiphany, the preaching of His appearance, and the report of His arrival in our human flesh has gone out into all lands. It began with the angels singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Then came the shepherds, those first preachers of Our Lord’s nativity. And now, today, we hear that the guiding star leads the Magi to become joyful heralds to those who live in the farthest reaches of the earth.

Now, no one is excluded. God in our flesh can be seen by all. Even those who refuse cannot deny to see Christ in glory on the cross.

Before the cross, there was a spectacular star. Who is this star that proclaims that the King is here? To be sure, it is a natural phenomenon. Yet with this star, the whole creation greets her Creator who lets Himself be created. But while it is an unique occurrence in nature, the Epiphany star is also a spiritual harbinger.

Consider this: How does Mary know that she bears and gives birth to the Son of God unless the angel Gabriel tells her? How do the shepherds know this infant is their Savior, Christ the Lord, unless the angel announces it to them? And how do the Magi know that the Child in Bethlehem is King Messiah worthy of all worship and sacrifice, unless the star proclaims and leads them?

None of this preaching—by Gabriel, by the angels, or by the star—none of this happens apart from the Holy Spirit of God. And so, the star in the East is more than a natural phenomenon. It is the work of God. In fact, we can be so bold as to say that it is the Spirit of God—not this time appearing as a dove, but as the pillar and tongue of fire concentrated in a heavenly orb, sitting over Bethlehem, alighting on the Son of Man.

Yet the splendor of this star and the glory of this day seem sullied when we recall the cruel machinations of wicked King Herod—a cruelty against Our Lord, a cruelty against all that is true and just, a cruelty extends even to this day.

Earthly rulers are too often in love with their corrupting and corruptible thrones. And they are often committed to wresting power from God.

King Herod is so afraid of losing power, that he fears a tiny infant, a helpless babe. And the Magi’s question—“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”—this question troubles and frightens Herod into horrific brutality; and all Jerusalem with him.

Yet do not let violence dampen your celebration. For as the Spirit of God proclaims through a star, as He preaches through simple shepherds and astute Magi, so He also uses the fury of Herod to fulfill prophecy and to further God’s mercy. Violence cannot stomp out God’s justice. The blood of martyrs, the blood of the most innocent, only increases and furthers God’s kingdom. And God’s mercy expands to overwhelm all hatred.

So do not be afraid. Even if things look bleak now. Even if there is much to fear. For who is with us? The Child who is God, who warned the Magi, who destroyed death by His death, who cannot be undone. This is the One who stands with us; Whose victory gives us hope; and Whose love encourages us to stand fast with Him.

That’s what the Magi did. They don’t give into fear. Instead, they heed the divine warning and so return to their own country another way. Then the ever-righteous, ever-protective Joseph takes the young Child and His mother by night and departs for Egypt. Not that the Holy Family flees in fear, but to expand the Lord’s reign. For in the land that once housed another barbaric Pharaoh who sought to kill the infant Moses—there the Son of God will remain. And with His presence, He will bless the gentile nation that once welcomed another Joseph. And in this way, the glory of the Lord will again be revealed; and the mercy of God will again be openly made known to all men—and especially to us.

Herod, that enraged tyrant, does not perceive any of this. Neither do the chief priests or scribes, who acquiesce to the horrid crime of slaying innocent boys in hopes of killing the Christ. But make no mistake—they all know that the babe at Bethlehem is the promised Messiah. You heard them say so themselves.

And their cruelty will confirm what they have declared. The slaughter of the innocent martyrs reveals that the new Moses, the true Messiah, has arrived. And one Herod’s barbarity points ahead to another Herod who will mockingly and gladly hand Jesus over to a tortuous death at the hands of Pontius Pilate.

Remember, the violence of devil-inspired men is how our salvation is accomplished. That is how the mercy of God comes to full fruition. And most significantly, that is how we live—by eating and drinking the flesh and blood of our God sacrificed on the cross. For what they meant as destruction we now get to receive for our salvation.

This is how we get to give thanks to the Lord who turns cruelty into our redemption. His thoughts exceed our imagination, and His wisdom is wiser than any Magi. For He uses the cruelty of Herod to further the Gospel of our salvation. And in so doing, Our Lord shows us that He is in the habit of deceiving the Deceiver, and of turning Satan’s accusations into the means of our salvation.

And so, we see that our rejoicing today is built upon two pillars. First, there is the Spirit-induced phenomenon of the star which leads Gentile kings into faithful worship. And this shows us that we also may worship Christ the King. And second, there is the satanic plot of Herod which the same Spirit uses not only to further the message to all peoples, but most importantly, to reveal to us the mercy of God resident in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.

What an epiphany, then, that we celebrate! For our joy is heightened not just by the fact that Jesus appears for all men, but also by the undeniable truth that His appearance means that the tyranny of sin is overthrown, the cruelty of man will not remain, the deceptions of the devil are turned to our good, and the reign of terror has ended.

Let us then give thanks not as we choose, but as Our Lord wills—by receiving into our mouths and hearts the flesh and blood of this Child whom angels praised, whom shepherds preached, whom Wise Men worshipped, whom Egyptians welcomed, and whom even Herod—in God’s mysterious way—revealed to be our King of mercy. For to this Lord Jesus Christ, together with His Father in the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship: world without end.

Matthew 2.1-12

Read More

How We Prepare the Way of the Lord

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Luke 3.1-6

You would think that we should today hear something about the great Feast which we shall celebrate in a few days. You would think that we should hear about the announcement by the archangel Gabriel or the Blessed Virgin Mary—perhaps repeating what we heard at Mass last Wednesday and last Friday. Afterall, our Byzantine brothers and sisters are today hearing about the visit of St Gabriel to St Joseph, and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel. So shouldn’t we also?

Instead, we are blessed to hear another prophecy from Isaiah. We hear not about a virgin, but about a voice. Not about a virgin with child, but about a voice crying out in the wilderness. And we hear not the news about the birth of Emmanuel, but rather the exhortation to prepare the way of the Lord by repentance: which means living against the sins we confess by self-denial, by restraining and suppressing our pride, anger, judginess, anxieties, and other disordered passions.

We hear such a stern exhortation. We hear a voice that seems to dampen our mood. Yet, we must remember why the voice cries out, why the prophet prophesies, why the Forerunner runs before the Christ, urging us to set our hearts and minds straight.

The voice cries out not to scold but to refocus our soul, to reset our heart’s desire—all so that we might take comfort. For what does the prophet Isaiah say?

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received [from] the LORD’s hand double [forgiveness] for all her sins.

Notice how we receive this double forgiveness, this overabundant mercy, this mercy without boundaries. It comes not from our hands but from the Lord’s hand. It comes not as the result of what we’ve accomplished, but as a gift from the Lord.

But even though we don’t deserve what Our Lord gives, He determines that we are worthy simply because He created us, and knows that we are too weak to do what we must. He knows our nature and what we are made of. So, by His grace, we can attain His double forgiveness, appropriate it, and embrace it when we have prepared ourselves properly to receive, without conditions, what He so graciously gives.

And how do we prepare? It is a matter of the heart more than following rules or certain steps. We prepare by exercising humility. By denying our comforts for the good of others. But most importantly, we exercise humility when we trust the Lord’s Word more than the confounding noise in our head; when we let His will run our way; when we don’t let our fears and anxieties get the better of us, but instead cast all of these cares upon the Lord, confident that He truly cares for us. Those are ‘fruits worthy of repentance.’

The Holy Mother of God and St John Baptist are prime examples of this true humility. They did not walk around defeated, or looking for sympathy, or meekly giving in to every bully. That’s not humility. Instead, the humility they lived was a natural outgrowth of their faith that God’s will actually, and really, and truly is done. Always. No matter the conditions or restrictions by others. And so they show us what ‘fruits worthy of repentance’ look like.

And so the voice of the One cries out. He urges to ready ourselves to receive Our Lord to the fullest by setting aside all earthly desires, by quitting all anxieties about the cares of this life, and by making no excuses or room for what we think matters most.

The voice cries out, prodding us to train our flesh with fasting, and our hearts by giving, and our minds by prayer. The voice cries out, pleading with us to desire not the presents that break, or the gifts that offer fleeting happiness; but to desire this Son whom the blessed Virgin delivers; this Gift from the Father; and this Present whom the Spirit generously wishes to bestow on all flesh.

Yet how can we welcome Him aright, how can we embrace Him with fulsome joy, how can we truly celebrate His Nativity—unless our hearts have been prepared by Private Absolution. For what else fills the valleys we have pock-marked with our meanness and pettiness? What else levels the mountains and hills of our stubborn pride? What else straightens our crooked addictions and desires? What else makes plain the rough ways of our sins?

Is it not the Sacrament of Penance? Is it not the Lord’s doubling absolution which gently yet firmly meets and heals the wrong-doing we confess? And is it not hearing the Lord speak His comfort after we have said how we have offended Him, His Mother, His angels, His saints, and all in His church?

Let us then hasten to do what St John the Baptizer begs, entreats, and pleads with us to do. His voice cries out to the barren wilderness in our hearts. His voice cries out offering, presenting, and promising the dew and moisture of the Spirit who will bring new life and sturdy growth in our wilderness. His voice cries out, beckoning us to be truly and rightly prepared for this coming Feast. His voice cries out, inviting us to ignore him no more, but to lay aside all earthly care so that we might, with true and earnest hearts, take up the salvation that the Lord’s priests place in our ears and then on our tongues.

This plea by the holy Forerunner to prepare ourselves by seeking God’s absolution as we confess our sins—this plea is not a plea simply for those who feel guilty or know they did something bad. It is a plea for all. For those who are poor as well as those who are well-off; those who are strong in the faith as well as those who are weak; those who are at peace as well as those who are anxious; those who have kept the fast as well as those who have not; those who have little to confess as well as those who have much. I invite you, with me, to heed this voice that speaks to our wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. For the Lord is at hand, and the Lord’s Feast comes soon, and the Lord’s Day is nigh.

May we, by the prayers of St John the Baptizer, not be afraid to prepare, by the Sacrament of Penance, the way which is our blessed Lord Jesus Christ; to whom with His Father, in the unity of the all-Holy and life-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship, world without end.

20 December 2020

Read More