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

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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

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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

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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

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The Voice of the One

Advent III Homily

My beloved spiritual children:

Rejoice in the Lord alway!

Those are the first words you heard when they were chanted at the beginning of today’s Mass. And in case they did not sink down, they were repeated in the Epistle: Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice!

The joy Holy Mother Church and St Paul urge is not the manufactured gladness or giddiness so common during this time of year. Neither is it a sentimental happiness or the seasonal delight we might feel.

Rather, they are encouraging the deep-seated joy that cannot be shaken by various trials or temptations; the rejoicing that simmers quietly within us despite many annoyances and hassles; the gladness that is undisturbed precisely because it is rooted and grounded in the promise, the hope, the vow by the Lord that, no matter what happens, His will is done and He will come through.

So this joy—this delight in the Lord’s mysteries available in all circumstances; this unmatched pleasure shown us in the holy virgins, steadfast confessors, and the faithful martyrs; this satisfaction in beholding our Lord God with our own eyes both in His Blessed Sacrament now and in the beatific vision in the life to come—this is the joy that this Mass desires to enkindle within each person here present, both living and departed.

It is a joy that is not diminished by sorrows or fears or sacrifices for the love of others; A joy that continues even in persecution; a joy we read about and that inspires us in the lives of St Mary of Paris in the concentration camp, or faithful Russians in the Gulag, or resolute Orthodox Christians in Syria—those who, more than we ever have, see in suffering and hardship, in being deprived of basic freedoms and rights, that the Lord has not abandoned them but is beside them, strengthening and leading them; that he is in fact their way of escape, and their way to live in miserable conditions.

However, when we have better comforts or when we only see what is in front of us—then this joy can be stolen by an all-consuming need to instruct others according to our self-determined truth; yet it is restored by quietly meditating on Truth himself. This holy joy can be stolen by the need to be right; but it is restored by aligning your way with and in the Way. This holistic gladness can be stolen by anger at those abusing your rights, by anxiety and fear for the future, by insisting that my truth be heard; but it can be restored by listening with inner stillness to the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.’

How seemingly incongruent. Here, amidst traffic sounds, the screeching of competing voices in society, the clatter of what you and we and us must do—here, amidst all the noise that competes for our attention and that creates so much commotion and confusion in our minds—how can we, here in this place and time, even begin to distinguish and tune into the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness?’

The temptation is to flee to the wilderness. Or that we think we’ll only be able to truly listen to St John’s voice once we’re able to make, or find, or set aside quiet time. Once the noise out there abates, once the chatter in our head subsides, once things slow down—we think that then, and only then, will we be in the right frame of mind to listen to the voice of the One. And only then, so we falsely think, can we truly begin to rejoice in that deep-down way that I mentioned before.

But it truly is possible to find the wilderness, and to listen to the voice, in this time and place. We simply need follow St John as he invites us to prepare a path and plow a road into the interior silence of our hearts. If we can only, for a moment, ‘be still and know that [God] is truly God.’

“Happy is that [person] who has so fled the world’s tumult, who has so withdrawn into the solitude and secrecy of interior peace that he or she can hear not only the Voice of the Word, but the Word Himself: not John but Jesus.” (Bl Guerric of Igny)

To get to that point, we need to make a path through the distractions and clutter in our head, down through the murkiness of our selfishness, past the tangle of our passions, avoiding the diversions of various temptations, into the deep of our heart and mind where we, not too long ago, saw our Beloved Lord. He entices us by saying, “I remember the devotion of your earlier days, you loved like a new bride—how you followed Me, called out to Me, searched eagerly for Me, longed for Me. I remember and can see that you remember and desire those days.”

Fortunately, blessedly, by God’s grace, riding within the Lord’s summons is His Spirit, which inspires and strengthens us to straighten and smooth out the rough ways. For the voice of the One doesn’t simply sound. The wind of the Spirit gently breathes into us the humility and gratitude to flatten the mountains and hills of our arrogance. That’s what is so good about St John the Baptizer. He reminds us of the need for repentance, the need to turn our heads and hearts away from the so-many-things that make us think they matter more that attaining our homeland; the so-many-things that shout down the voice.

The quieting so that we hear—that doesn’t happen magically or even miraculously. It takes work. Not heavy lifting, but diligence. Not one more thing, but the one thing needful. To be sure, every passion and all the voices inside and outside will resist this work and urge you to give up. But these don’t want you to taste the sweet and pleasant things along the Way. They want you to spin your wheels. And they see stumbling and falling behind as failure rather than as the way of Christ.

Remember Our Lord’s way. For His way needs to be our way. That’s what St John urges us toward: the Way of the Lord. And the Lord’s Way. That way is strewn with unpleasantness as we battle our own desire to do it our way; as we oppose the Way, Truth, and Life with my way, my truth, and the life I want.

But as we let the Word, who is Christ, enter, He will seek to align our ways with His Way. And His Word will ask to overcome whatever we think we ought to believe or say or think. In His Way, however, we will find true quietness—a quieting of our chaotic desires, a quieting of our undisciplined passions, a quieting of the noise that drives us to despair. And then, by the merits and prayers of the Saints, we will begin to see Our Lord’s Way and Word not as His truth or a truth or even the truth, but that He is truly the One who is the Way itself, in the Truth He is, toward the only Life there is; to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

John 1.19-23
13 December 2020

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Confounded? Look Up!

St Luke 21.25-33
Advent I Homily

It is too easy to be confounded, bewildered, perplexed. Not because we are stupid or incapable of clear thinking or making sense. But because so many voices say so many different things. About Our Lord. About His will. About His place. About His ability and desire to help, to rescue, to answer, to deliver, to save.

It is easy to be confounded. And when we are, then we quickly feel defeated, even routed and overwhelmed and crushed. Or we feel ashamed that we should know better. Or have stronger faith.

It is easy to be confounded. Because we feel left out. Left out of God’s design. Not consulted. Not informed. And so we are baffled, even when we’ve been told what will happen. Even when we were plainly told what would be next, and what would come after that.

We’re easily confounded because we believe science more than Our Lord’s word. Because we trust the experts more than the apostles. Because we rely on facts more than sure and certain promises that have been repeated for centuries. Because we’ve talked ourselves out of hope by talking constantly about stress and anxiety.

We’re easily confounded because we’ve misplaced our faith. We’ve placed it in everything we see or hear, everything down here.

“When these things begin to happen”—when you and I are dazed and confused, feeling as if the ground is shifting, and as if everything is out of control; when you and I are confounded, “Look up! Lift up your heads!” For whatever else is true, this is most certainly true: Any help we need in the big times, when we’re caught in the white-caps and things are spiraling and spiraling—any help we must have | will come only from above. Above what we see and feel and think and know. Above our own short-sighted sight.

That is why Our Lord says, “Lift up your heads!” For uplifted heads rise above everything that mystifies. And causes angst. And terrifies. Uplifted heads rise even above hope itself, and look with confidence.

“Lift up your heads,” Our Lord says. And we reply, “Unto thee lift I up my soul. My God, in thee have I trusted. Let me not be confounded.”

Our Lord does not seek to confound us. Or leave us in the dark. He is, after all, the light who shines into darkness and never goes out. So He calls us away from confusion, out of chaos, and into His life, into His warmth, into His light. And by doing this, the Light of the World beckons us into work and pleasure, goodness and beauty, and the company of other loved ones—both living and departed.

We’re confused and anxious and afraid because we’re looking down or looking only at what we can see. But Our Lord summons us to look at Him. Who He is. Which is who we can be. By His kindness. By His grace. If only we keep our eyes uplifted, and our hearts upraised.

“Lift up your hearts,” says the priest. And with these words he is mimicking Our Lord’s call to faith at every Mass. “Lift up your hearts,” because uplifted hearts are hopeful, just as uplifted heads are confident.

Our Lord’s encouragement to look up and lift up is not pollyannish. It’s not a command to ignore what’s going on around us. Or to rebel against what confuses or frustrates or angers. We still need to live here. But we need to live without fear. Not being afraid of what will happen next, or how we’ll be affected, or what so-called rights we’ll lose.

We need to live here. With our feet on this earth, but with our hearts and eyes, our hope and confidence, our faith and understanding rooted and planted in Our Lord and His kingdom. Just as the saints did. And especially the martyrs.

Like St Saturninus, whose heavenly birthday we commemorate today. This early French bishop aroused jealousy because, by God’s grace, his preaching gave people the courage to look up and see in Christ their redemption, even as they were surrounded by persecution. His feet, and theirs, were in this world. But their eyes and hearts were more sure about Our Lord and the life He lived in them and through them. And so this man, who lived unafraid and unconcerned with what the authorities said or did—he did not provoke or protest, but certainly stood firm when asked to compromise his faith. Unshaken in his refusal to let threats or riches tempt him, St Saturninus was cruelly tortured and killed. And yet he left us a legacy of holiness and righteousness.

To live unafraid is to live in holiness. To live without fear is to not let anxiety overrule or control. And to live without fear is to live righteousness, seeking God’s justice and mercy—for others, if not also for yourself.

This faith of not being confounded, of looking up, of lifting up our heads, of living without fear—this confidence that we don’t need to know all or be consulted, but simply take to heart what Our Lord says trusting that His statements far exceed mine or yours or theirs—this belief lies within the motto St Paul urges us to adopt:

Your salvation is nearer than you think. And nearer than you even believe.

So let’s live like it. “Let’s cast off the works of darkness. Let’s put on the armor of light” so that we can see clearly and not be so easily confounded or overwhelmed. “Let’s walk honestly”—honest about who we are, what we’ve done, and what we truly need; and honest about who, above all others, is able to lift us up. And let’s not feed our passions or fantasies. Instead, let’s “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” giving no room whatsoever to what we think is best for us.

Then, and only then, will our confoundedness and worries dissipate. And we’ll be able to say, with free and ready hearts, “Show me Thy ways, O Lord. Teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation.” So that every day I am, by Thy grace, empowered to pin everything I am and have on Thee.

To whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: throughout all ages of ages.

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Sing Alleluia

A Homily for the Last Sunday in the Liturgical Year

When we feel such anxiety, when there seems to be so much strife and division, when hatred and meanness abounds, when insult and vulgarity have become common speech, when the news feed make us afraid, when it seems that we’ve lost our sure footing—how, then, can we dare to give thanks? Or to praise the Lord of heaven? Or to sing Alleluia?

For isn’t Alleluia a joyful song? Doesn’t is feel natural only when we are hopeful and happy?

Yet at every Mass we sing “Alleluia.” Our hearts join with the chanters when they intone the words of praise. For you know that Alleluia means, “Praise the Lord.” And when these words are sung at Mass, the chanters do not sing a simple melody, but they sweetly send forth a beautifully elongated, melismatic “Alleluia”—urging us with their voices to believe that Alleluia should resound and resonate, not just for a few moments but for a lifetime.

It’s as if our chanters, with their God-given gift, are gently correcting every discordant note, every dissonate feeling; as if they are soothing our anger and desire so that we do not meet insult with insult. And it’s as if they are imploring us, with their many notes, to make “Alleluia” our never-ending and undying response to everything that happens to us. Especially these days. Especially here. Especially when it seems we’re at our wits end, and losing ground, and turning some dark corner.

Turn after turn, “Alleluia” is our song. That’s how we Christians—who are foreigners in this land, who refuse to see this place as our destination, who are citizens of a greater kingdom—with Alleluia in our heart and on our lips, that’s how we meet every fear and hope, every crisis and calm, every sorrow and joy.

But let us also understand that most of the things that make us anxious are things we have no control over; things that disturb us because we feel as if we are helpless. But perhaps we have forgotten that God is my helper; the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. And perhaps we were distracted when our chanters, only a few moments ago, reminded us of what Our Lord God clearly and consistently declares: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: ye shall call upon me, and I will hearken unto you: and will bring again your captivity from all places.

Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security. (St Augustine)

We are anxious because of what’s happening around us. But we should also be anxious—and even more concerned—because of what is going on inside our souls—our desire to give in, to be offended, to lash out, and to feel alone. Yet who is really alone when we have so many angels ministering to us? And what can harm us when the saints, by their fervent and holy prayers, intervene for us? And why should we give in to our base desires when we know that we are playing into the devil’s hand and driving us further from hope and pushing away God’s kindness?

To be clear, we live in anxiety. And that is how it has always been—especially for those who have been baptized into Christ.

Why do we live in anxiety? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when I read: Is not man’s life on earth a time of trial? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when the words still ring in my ears: Watch and pray that you will not be put to the test? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when there are so many temptations here below that prayer itself reminds us of them, when we say: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us?

Every day we make out petitions, every day we sin. Do you want me to feel secure when I am daily asking pardon for my sins, and requesting help in time of trial? Because of my past sins I pray: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and then, because of the perils still before me, I immediately go on to add: Lead us not into temptation. How can all be well with people who are crying out with me: Deliver us from evil? And yet, my beloved, while we are still in the midst of this evil, let us sing alleluia to the good God who delivers us from evil.

Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let everyone, sing alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. (St Augustine)

And with every trial, he will give you a way of escape. An escape He has made, and which we must crawl through. An escape not where He magically whisks away everything bothersome or painful or distressing. But an escape in which He urges us to strive with Him, shouldering the cross that is a sign of victory through seeming defeat, and unimaginable and unending joy after heartache and sorrow.

So let us sing alleluia, even here on earth. Man is still a debtor, but God is faithful. Scripture does not say that he will not allow you to be tried, but that he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. Whatever the trial, he will see your through it safely, and so enable you to endure.

Like every Christian before us, we are living through a time of trial; but you will come to no harm—God’s help will bring you through it safely. You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. (St Augustine)

And what does this firing by tribulation get us? Remember the words St Peter preached at Easter shortly before his execution:

Though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, [both from others and more so from within], in this you rejoice, because the genuineness of your faith—which is more precious than perishable gold—your precious faith is being tested by fire so that you may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1.6-7)

For isn’t Christ the one you truly love? And isn’t it His promises that bring alive your hope and joy? If so, why give permission to others to steal your joy or dampen your hope or mute your Alleluia song?

And listen: the happiness in our Alleluia means that we are secure and fear no adversity, no matter what is going on around us. And our Alleluia means that we look forward to the day when

We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.

So, then, let us sing Alleluia now. Not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. Sing as travelers sing. Sing, while you continue your journey. Sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going.

What do I mean by keep going? Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue; for there are some, the Apostle warns, whose only progress is in vice. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. (St Augustine)

So let us continue to sing Alleluia together, even in the midst of anxiety and irritation. Sing, and keep going forward in virtue, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. For because of the joy He saw and anticipated, He endured the cross, despising the shame. And with His angels and the Saints, He and they await us so that our Alleluia becomes then more than it is now.

May Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is praised and glorified in His saints, have mercy on us and save us.

The St Augustine quotes are from excerpts of Sermon 256 as they appear in The Office of Christian Readings

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Behold Your King!

Homily for the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
25 October 2020

It is so easy to think of ourselves. Especially these days, when it feels as if there is so much to think about, so much to care about, so much to focus on.

It has always been true that we are inclined to focus on ourselves. To look ahead, thinking of our future—what kind of person we are becoming, what our world holds for us. We focus on ourselves, but we don’t really look into ourselves. We look at how we look, but we try hard to avoid who we truly are.

These days, our thinking about ourselves is intensified as we are able to see more and more the world we live in. The blessing of electronics everywhere and quick information shrinks our world. But it also tends to dramatize, in our minds and hearts, how much evil there really is. And how much we might contribute to it in small or large ways. And what we can do to make things better.

And so, we think about ourselves, and more than ever we think about our world. But thinking, dwelling, ruminating, and focusing on us and our world fills us not with hope, but with anxiety; not with optimism but with dread. That is how it has always been. Because, as we sink more and more into ourselves, we see more clearly that we are vulnerable, helpless, dependent—unable to make any real difference on a large scale, and that any difference we might make can be easily undone in a blink of an eye.

The feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King brings these things to mind, especially since it coincides with the nation’s and world’s focus on elections, with influencers declaiming that this election will be the most important.

And so back into ourselves and our world we go.

Now, it is pollyannish and another kind of folly simply to bury our heads in the sand and say that everything is so out of control that nothing matters. That kind of thinking is still about us—how we want to give up, or run away, or hide.

No doubt, that was exactly the feeling of St Peter, St James, St John, and certainly St Thomas and the others as they saw the scene unfold that you just heard in today’s Gospel. Thinking about themselves, they forsook our Lord and fled. Thinking about themselves, wrapped up in anxiety and spiritual lethargy, they locked themselves in the upper room.

What they didn’t see is what we also often forget to notice. They didn’t look up. And we often don’t look up either. And so, the disciples saw only some despotic looking leader running off his mouth, wringing his hands, making sure no one blamed him. What they didn’t see was Christ the King—standing with a crown on His head, wrapped in a royal robe, processing with quiet dignity to His throne, which is the gallows of the cross.

When we look up at that scene, we can become squeamish and feel unsafe. But when we look with greater clarity, when we open our eyes to see what is really happening, then perhaps we will begin to see the Gospel’s the scene for what it truly is—the grand enthronement of the King of all.

When we see that, and recall how the story goes—that everything that scares is overwhelmed by humility; that the greatest evil is conquered by an even greater sacrifice; that death is conquered by the resurrection of God—when we see that, then hope displaces fear; and deep-seated affection pushes down the desire to lash out, to share mean memes, and to meet ugly with ugliest.

Christ looks quite ugly, unbecoming, undignified, unkingly on the cross. But we can see this scene as the greatest act of love. And as unmatched beauty. And as hope, not to come, but already delivered.

When we see Christ our King enthroned on the wood of the cross, His arms spread wide to embrace us, His face wrapped in serene victory, His lips formed to give out His spirit once again to vitalize our life—when we see this King, then we should begin to see that nothing else matters except to be with Him, a citizen of His kingdom, embraced by His care. And we should begin to see that He’s both got us, and He’s got everything else that we can’t fix, that we can’t care enough about, and that we can’t control.

And that’s why millennia ago, our Father tried to talk His chosen out of making one flawed man the one they pinned their hopes to. They wanted what everyone else had, because they were looking at themselves and what they seemed to be missing. What they did not see, what they refused to see, what they dismissed, is what they already had: a King better than Saul, better than David, better than Solomon, better than the best president or system or policy. They had the King of All as their king—and we really don’t need anyone else.

Again, that’s not to say that we should not care or want better. But it is to say that we should continually—in our heart and mind, with all that we are and all that we have—we should continually look up. To the cross. To the King on His throne. To the One whom the sign rightly proclaims to be Christ our King.

But don’t gaze in wonder and in awe, like you’re looking at some museum piece. Instead, take into your heart and mind this Jesus that you see on the cross. Realize and trust that this scene shows not only His victory, but yours; not only His glory, but yours. For that’s why He does mounts to cross—to give you every benefit, everything, He has as King.

As you receive and taste the Hope that He is, remember, then, that the totality of our spiritual life consists of two elements: thinking of ourselves and looking to our Lord. “When we think of ourselves, we are perturbed and filled with a salutary sadness. Yet when we think of the Lord, we are revived to find consolation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. From the first we derive fear and humility, from the second hope and love.” (St Bernard of Clairvaux)

Especially in these next few days, let us think and meditate on, and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12.2) To whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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God’s Justice

The Feast of the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary
October 11

The truth that Our Lord took flesh from a well-chosen woman is at the heart of God’s justice. Certainly, the fact that His holy Mother remained a virgin after giving birth is not a rarefied theory but foundational to God’s justice.

For God’s justice is all about reconciling us to our Maker—the Creator and Father of everything, from whom we are estranged whenever we let our pride and ungodly passions dominate our decisions and choices.

God’s justice is all about overwhelming, by stealth, the devil who invented death in order to increase our fear, our anxiety, our hatred, and our enmity toward each other. For when the devil is undone, and when we know that death is not the end but a gateway into a more glorious life—then our whole way of living changes, and those we fear now become those we seek to embrace.

And God’s justice is all about drawing near to us so that we might draw near to Him. And living through our heartache so that we might both know what is possible and never have to go through the worst alone.

God in Christ taking us actually, truly, really into Himself so that we can take Him actually, truly, and really into our own bodies—and thereby be better, truly better; so that we no longer need to fight, fight, fight, but can be still and settled and refreshed in pure kindness: that’s what God’s justice is all about.

Our justice is limited to how much we can control others.
God’s justice is Christ taking us into Himself so that we can take Him into our own bodies.

To be less frantic, and more at ease. To be less afraid, and more secure. To end our weariness, and give us lasting respite. That is the goal of God’s justice.

Certainly, Our Lord’s justice is very different from our notions of justice.

Our justice is limited to how much we can control others—control their statements or choices; control their bullying or abusiveness. And our justice is restricted to what we see and define as fair and good at this time. And our justice has everything to do with our self-determined rights, and constraining those who usurp or undermine those rights.

In a world that doesn’t think much of God and cares less about those who do; in a devolving world where the very excluding word ‘my’ now determines truth, reality, morality, and narrative; in this place where joy and hope are constantly stolen from us, where we are prodded to see disquietude as the new normal—in this world which, even among Christians, sidelines God—perhaps a justice that controls others is the best we can do.

But even then, control of others is not only ineffective but even destructive if we don’t seek to control ourselves by putting to death the pleasures, the experiences, even the appetites that we’re so sure we are entitled to and can’t live without.

A transformation of our needs, and how we see ourselves; a transformation of how we define happiness and our purpose; and, above all else, a transformation of life—not just living, but life and the life that sees the biggest picture: that is what God’s justice aims to accomplish.

And this transformation of you and me, and of us together—this justice that sets everything aright even as it lifts our hopes and inspires new confidence in life and living—this begins when the Archangel Gabriel says, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” The bodiless spirit says is that the fulness of God dwells in the body of this woman. And as the Lord knits her flesh to His divine nature, He begins the transformation of each one of us.

This transformation of you and me, this is God’s justice. So this true justice, which makes petty our ideas of justice—this is confirmed when Elizabeth proclaims that Mary is the Mother of the Lord.

What an astounding thought: the God without beginning or end now both wants and needs a mother! By becoming the Mother of God, ‘blessed of all woman,’ the woman who excels any and every man; with her God’s justice is now put into motion.

In our flesh, which He gets from Mary, the omnipotent Lord now engages our extremely savage enemy in mortal combat. But the war is not fairly fought. For Our Lord stoops below the devil’s level, getting from us the capacity to bleed and die. Yet the justice of God is that He will become the weakest human in order to overwhelm the strongest demon. He endures humiliation to deflate the proudest of the proud. He wills to sacrifice Himself entirely in order to redeem and love back to life all creation. He determines to be destroyed in order to rebuild our life from His tomb.

Now, perhaps, you can see that God’s justice is just the opposite of what we talk about these days. Not speaking truth to power, but weakness overcoming strength; vulnerability taking down the invincible; and Truth in the flesh dispatching unreal lies.

Again, all this hinges on a woman who gives birth to God. For by conceiving, and carrying, and birthing, and nurturing, and raising God in our flesh, Mary is on the front lines of God working His justice by transforming our flesh, and making it capable of being interpenetrated with divinity. By saying, “Let it be to me,” she reveals that with our will encased in faith, we can live fearlessly and with relentless hope. And, most of all, by willingly accepting the offer to be God’s Mother, Mary shows us that we also can carry God’s Body and Blood in our flesh.

It is this flesh of Christ, both for us and in us—in our minds and in our own bodies by the Eucharist—it is this flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, that accomplishes in our very being the justice of God the Father; to whom, with His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Breaking Through Broken

Has the coronavirus broken you—your habit of prayer, your attendance at Mass (either in person or via livestream), and your desire for the Holy Sacraments. Has it made “living-room church” normal because it’s easier, convenient, less of a hassle?

As a result, has COVID also broken your patience, your optimism and hope? Has it caused you to be more judgy, and driven you away from those who don’t fit your ideas? Has it isolated you and driven you more and more into yourself, and thereby? Has it created in you an “us against them” and a “me against the world” mentality?

Perhaps some of these notions were always there, as tiny seeds of vice, embedded deeply within your soul. But before this pandemic, we were able to bury or even cut off the roots of these ungodly feelings and desires. For we interacted with each other, and with many other people, and so realized that everything is actually much more complicated than we think it is right now. And the way we learned that is from our conversations, our relationships, with others.

But now, even if we are able to see others in person or via Zoom, we are forced to live more with ourselves. We feel cut off and alone, because we’ve been taught to think that others can hurt us—even our closest family and friends, even those whom we love in our parish. And we fear that they may threaten not just our health but also our deeply-held ideals.

We feel cut off and alone because this pandemic has taught to think that others can hurt us—even our closest family and friends, even those whom we love in our parish.

Ideals, values, our way of seeing ‘truth,’ our view of what is best and good—all of this needs to be challenged in order to sharpen, shape, and modify us. And as we are shaped by our interaction with each other, our compassion rises above our prejudice; our love tamps down our fear; our empathy reduces our fear.

That might be, then, how we’ve been broken. The pestilence that has shifted us to see friends as enemies. The restrictions—good and necessary as they have been—have unwittingly constricted our soul.

Honestly consider, then, the several questions that I raised in the first two paragraphs of this essay. For these may reveal the ways that the devil is taking advantage of this virus.

And then ask yourself one more question: how am I taking advantage of this time, this challenge, this shift from what I thought was normal?

Wherever you are in this spectrum, know that St Michael’s Church is always open for you, always ready to embrace you, always available to help you. Not just on Sundays. But during the week—with daily Mass, with private prayer in the church, with individual conversation, with online gatherings.

I promise to do all I can to make sure you are listened to, and your voice heard. But more importantly, you will find here what you’ve always sought since the day you first arrived in this place: the kindness and mercy of Our Lord Jesus which heals what is broken, and gives hope where there is fear and restlessness.

May the Love of God be within each of us.

Rev Msgr John W Fenton

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