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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The Giving is the Sacrifice

Patronal Feast Homily

What a wonderful patron we have! Like all the angels, St Michael doesn’t focus on our sins, or the ways we divide up others, or how we so often lose control of our passions. And he doesn’t get distracted by all the noise—the outside clamor, the breathless media uproar, the social media racket, or the disquiet in our own head. None of this throws him off-balance. None of this creates a scintilla of anxiety. None of this sidetracks or confuses or frustrates St Michael or any of the holy angels.

That’s because the holy Archangel is single-minded. All that really matters is simultaneously worshiping God and serving us. And our patron’s ministry is protecting and defending us from the malice and snares of the devil. He’s focused on leading you safely into the life of the world to come. Nothing else matters, except your well-being, your relationship, your communion in God.

Serving Our Lord by serving us—that’s our patron’s mission. Sacrificing every ounce of “what’s-in-it-for-me.” And thinking not about his own strategy, his own tactics—but simply executing the will of God for the good of another: that’s what our holy patron is all about.

And we keep him busy. Because we are so prone to flip things around and inside out.

Think about it: we honestly believe that the most important thing about this Mass is what we do—our singing, our ability to hear, whether we stand or sit. And I admit, I get caught up in that as well, thinking that the words I’m speaking now must impact you because that’s what you’ll take away from today’s Mass.

In point of fact, the core of the Mass is not at all what we do, but what God gives us in His Son. And learning something or hearing we’re not so bad is not the point of the Mass. The Mass opens to us the kingdom of heaven. It helps us see Christ in His Body and Blood. It gives us the weapon of silence so that we can fight our passions by quieting our restless bodies and minds. Peace and quiet, silence and inner tranquility—that is our greatest weapon against Satan, our flesh, and the world’s clamoring.

For this reason, the heart of the Mass is not the homily, but the Canon of the Mass—that long prayer that I say quietly, so that you have at least each week to silently marvel and revere and consider in awesome fear that we can dare to approach the merciful Father, and receive into our soiled and stained temples Our Lord’s pure and immaculate Body and Blood.

And think about it: we honestly believe that our prayers are a show of support; and that praying, or worse yet refusing to pray for someone, actually affects, impresses, and nudges God, or the nation, or someone else in a particular direction.

In point of fact, Truth Himself tells us to pray, not so that we change God or to support others, but because we need to remember that we’re not in control; that everything depends on Our Father’s mercy. We pray to recall that Our Lord gifts us with everything—everything—we have. And we pray to keep in mind that the Lord’s will is not capricious or fickle; but that always, in every instance, even in the worst moments, the Lord is getting His way—in ways that we can’t even see are actually good and righteous.

And think about it: we honestly believe that we can judge who is deserving, or not deserving, of our smile, our kind words, our attention, our pennies, our help. As if what God has freely given to us, showered upon us, blessed us with—is ours to play god with.

In point of fact, we have all—everyone one of us—fallen short. “None is righteous, no, not one.” We are as vulnerable to rebel against love as we are prone to see and hold onto only our ideas of fairness and justice. So we judge and attack and belittle those who don’t share our view. But no one really understands or sees what another person is going through. God sees, the angels see—which is why the divine response to the world’s problems befuddles us. And so we judge God our Father instead of trusting that He’s already got it all worked out.

Instead of our faulty justice, we need to show sympathy. Instead of correction, we need to forgive. Instead of condemnation, we need more friendship. Friendship that stubbornly loves and helps and cares for the loved ones who push us away.

That’s what St Michael and the holy angels do. Even when we do and say and see and hear shameful things—things that make our Guardian Angel blush and weep—even in our most disgusting moments, St Michael the Archangel leads the fight for our souls. For even though we can’t see it, or don’t see it, or won’t see it—spiritual beings are fighting over you. Over your soul.

And so the angels and especially St Michael step in to show us what God’s love for us, what God’s love in us, what God’s love through us—what God’s love looks like

It looks like putting to death your ideas of justice, killing my thoughts of who’s deserving, and drowning our narratives and identity and carefully crafted truths.

Equally important, love of God looks like loving especially the person who is nastiest, praying especially for the politician we’re sure is the worst, and being merciful especially to the person whose values we hate.

Isn’t that Christ on the cross? It’s not just Jesus dying. It’s Him taking on all the hatred we’ve ever felt, all the prejudice we’ve ever denied practicing, all the abuse we’ve ever thrown at another, and all the jugdiness we’ve ever thought. Taking all that into Himself; enduring all our hatred; swallowing all our bitterness—all so that He might embrace us yet again; and not turn His back on us, but transform us by His undying love for us.

God in Christ by the cross works life through death, goodness through brutality, greatness through humility, love through hatred, empathy through prejudice. And His greatest desire is to do that not just through His Son, but also in and through you and me.

That’s what turn the other cheek looks like. That’s what St Paul’s doing when he urges the Romans to pray for Nero. And that’s what it looks like when disciples pick up Christ’s cross and follow Him: They turn the world upside down by loving hatred to death.

And that’s why St Michael and the holy angels fight. They fight because they see what we can really be. They fight because they believe that our Father did right by sending His Son to become vulnerable, weak, death-filled—like us, in order to transfigure us.

For the angels fight for the good of everyone. Not just the good people, or the people who worship the Holy Trinity. St Michael leads the holy angels for the good of everyone and everything that God has created. For all creation matters. And Jesus lays down His life on the cross for everyone and everything. You know the words: ‘God so loved the world (not just the good people, and not just the humans)—He loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.’

The giving is the sacrifice. The sacrifice of self, and especially the killing of your own will. St Michael sees this sacrifice by Jesus and leads the angels to imitate it. And so “they conquered Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they loved not their lives even unto death.”

So we have a great and wonderful holy patron. A leader who focuses on what matters most—the Lord and His mercy. A leader who shows us that our life is a daily sacrificing of our will and passions. And a leader who strengthens us both to be vulnerable children, and to aid and assist all, even the most repulsive, since we are, everyone of us and altogether, the people St Michael defends and truly wants to lead to the bosom of our heavenly Father; to whom with His Son, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Twin Brothers & Dropsy

Luke 14.1-11

Twin brothers, born in Arabia, were excellent physicians. They refused to charge their patients. They offered their doctoring skills for free. And they were not prejudiced. They respected and treated every person, regardless of color, status, religion, or race. They welcomed all as Christ. They believed that everyone they touched, everyone they helped, everyone that came to them, was no different than Jesus Himself. And so respect, not shame. Mercy, not judginess. Compassion, not meanness. Assistance, not fear. That’s how they treated each person.

Because of this, two things happened. First, they did not shy away from saying that they were Christian, and that their love of Christ compelled them to take not one penny for their services. And their love attracted more and more of the hurting and dying. They were attracted, not to these twin brothers, but to the love of Christ: a love for Jesus which compelled these two men to love all with real, genuine, authentic love.

Secondly, these brothers were maligned, insulted, harassed, persecuted, literally crucified, and then beheaded. For not taking the easy way. For not backing away from those in need. Because they loved Christ. And because their love moved them not to treat anyone differently.

Definitely, these brothers took sides. They sided with Christ. Assuredly, these brothers were defiant. They defied any attempt to back away from the marginalized. Most certainly, these brothers protested. They protested every attempt to set us against them; to see anyone as someone to be written off.

These twin brothers were St Cosmas & St Damian, whom the Church remembers with great affection today. We ask them to pray for us, that we may be delivered from all evils that beset us, especially the evil of pride and ego, of arrogance and conceit.

For at the heart of every good deed that Ss Cosmas & Damian performed—at the heart of it all was humility. A humility that refused to threaten, to bully, to be impatient. A humility that refused to take offense, that refused to be sensitive to the meanness of others and insensitive to others needs. A humility that was poised in their skill, but more confident in the Lord’s will.

And look where that humility led them. To humiliation. And being humiliated while they hung naked on a cross.

Yet they did not flinch. And they did not fear. And they did not flee from beheading. For Ss Cosmas & Damian knew that the Lord who helped them heal others would affix again their heads, and heal their wounds, and lift them up, and exalt them. Just as He does for everyone who humbles himself for Christ’s sake. Just as Jesus had done for His own Mother. For she said, “He has put down the mighty and lifted up the lowly.”

The lowly and the lowliest are the ones Our Lord reaches out to; the ones He especially embraces. Not because they are downtrodden or in need of a self-esteem boost. But because humility is the way of life for those who pick up their cross daily and follow Christ.

Most of us are humbled, and humiliated, when we suffer the indignities of a debilitating illness. When our self-sufficiency and independence is restricted. When we lose our dignity by having someone care for us, especially in our most private moments.

Consider, then, the man with dropsy—what we today call edema. We meet this man in today’s Gospel. Because of his illness, this man is humbled and feels demeaned. No doubt, he is despised and rejected, a man acquainted with pain and sorrow, a man who is embarrassed and shamed because he looks different, moves differently, and is not able-bodied. This man is one of those that Ss Cosmas & Damian would treat. Because he is a man that Jesus considers, heals, and cares for.

What is ironic is that this man’s illness is a symbol for pride. His swollen tissues make many think of those with swollen heads. His body’s insistence on retaining water looks no different than a proud person’s insistence of retaining his own puffed up opinion of himself, and his politics, and his lifestyle, and his religiousity. All at the expense, at the belittling, of anyone who dares to disagree.

Isn’t pride—making sure I get mine, that others take notice and respect me, that my voice is heard, that others love me as I am—isn’t that our greatest spiritual affliction? And doesn’t that pride show itself when we demean, when we sneer at those whom we are sure are wrong? Or worse or less than us?

Perhaps if our humility was on display, as it was for the man with dropsy; perhaps if we could feel our head swell, every time we rush to take the best place and push others aside—then we might practice true humility.

To teach the Pharisees who can’t see or feel their pride, Jesus reduces the swelling for the afflicted man. And with this miracle, He announces that He will assuredly stand beside all those who wish to put away their pride, those who desire to be done with impatience and shoving themselves to the front. And more so, Our Lord will promote and encourage those who embrace the gift of humility—a gift many of us despise, but which the holy saints like Cosmas and Damian hold onto for dear life.

In this Gospel reading, as in most episodes like this, the Church wants us to see that we are very little different from the Pharisees. That the sin that kills us is the pride we refuse to see, and confess, and reform. And, in that way, we are also like the man with edema, a dropsy not of the body but of the heart; not in the joints but in the soul.

Yet there stand Ss Cosmas and Damian. Quick and ready with their prayers to lead us out of ourselves. To help us get out of our own way, so that we might be on the right way. And to direct us in the way of humility, even to the point of humiliation. For humiliation is the route Our Lord took when He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

And in these holy saints—and all other saints whose lives and prayers inspire us—in them stands Our Lord Himself: quick and ready with His mercy, quick and ready to deflate our self-opinion so that we might find solid ground in the worth He ascribes to us, in the value He places in us, in the hope He enlivens in us.

For that is how Ss Cosmas & Damian were able to live and die. Not by hoping in their own skill; and not by finding hope in the movements, events, and promises that cry for our attention. Rather, as the saints do, we must pin our hopes to Our Lord’s way of humility, so that we too, in Christ, may be lifted above the frustrations and fears this world brings—lifted up by Our Lord into a society, a kingdom, and a life that calms, restores, grounds, braces and settles us.

A homily for Pentecost XVI
27 September 2020

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Seeing Everyone in the Eyes of One

Luke 7.11-17

When we hear of hardship, suffering, prejudice, abuse, starvation, injustice, illness, bullying, trauma, crisis, or impending death—empathy wells up in us. And it should. In fact, we would be inhuman if we didn’t feel something for those who suffer; and grossly unfeeling and thoughtless if we rejoiced in another’s hurt.

Empathy for the hurting wells up in us either because we’ve had similar situation, or because we can imagine what it would be like to endure these horrid circumstances.

But when the suffering hits close to home, when it’s a sibling or parent or close friend, then our empathy moves from sadness for them to hurting with them; from identifying with their pain to suffering with them. Suffering in the depths of our soul the suffering our loved ones suffer. And that’s what brings out true compassion. Not the compassion that is concern or uneasiness, but the compassion that heartfelt, bone-deep grief.

Both kinds of compassion are necessary and good. The compassion for the wrongs a group endures, as well as the compassion for a particular person I’m close to.

Both kinds of compassion are necessary if we are to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

But the compassion where I truly know what you’re going through; because I’ve been there; because you’re so close to me—that’s the compassion Our Lord Jesus feels.

So when we hear, as we do today, that Our Lord was moved with compassion—it’s not that He is pained by life’s hardships or wrongs done to groups. It’s that He is hurting with each hurting person. That He actually suffers our own unique suffering with us and for us.

So Our Lord feels for a group, for all humanity, not when He sees the plight of anonymous persons; not when He hears of someone He’s never known. Rather, Our Lord immerses Himself in the suffering of all when He looks into the eyes of the hurting person who is right in front of Him. When Jesus sees the person He’s sitting with, standing near, talking to, reaching out to—then He sees every one of us.

So the Lord sees the widow who is in a daze, trudging off to bury her son. Most certainly, a heart-rending scene for anyone who feels anything. And our Lord can certainly feel that general compassion—that compassion borne of empathy and understanding—because in the woman’s face, in her tearful eyes, He can see His own holy Mother who will soon, very soon, be walking that same path as a widow while her only son, dead, is carried to His tomb.

But the Lord’s compassion sees more than this scene. The Lord’s compassion is more than a reminder, more than a looking ahead. The tears flow, not for what will be but because of what He now sees.

And what Our Lord sees in the widow is every personal tragedy, every heart-rending moment, every fear and ruined future—all brought about by the disaster that occurs when one of us, and many of us together, tread the path of the first mother. When we, willfully and deliberately, prefer what we want. When we, in our weakness, give in to the belief and the certainty, that we know God better than God; that we know truth better than Truth Himself; that we know how to make life work better than the one who gave His life so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

So what Our Lord sees in the widow is the heart-breaking futility of living as if this life matters, and as if we matter most.

What Our Lord doesn’t do makes all the difference. What He doesn’t do is walk away. What He doesn’t do is make some snide remark about how we’ve ruined our life. And what Our Lord Jesus doesn’t do is throw up His hands and say, “You people aren’t worth it.”

For Our Lord is run by compassion. All about compassion. All about getting down in the pit with us, sitting with us, and then lifting us up out of the miserable mess we’ve made.

And so, what Our Lord does is approach the woman. And He says, “Let’s not weep.” And what He does it touch the coffin. And He says, “It’s now time to rise from the dead. It’s now time to come back from the grave. It’s now time to taste and see what life is really all about.”

Life is really all about Our Lord. No matter what’s going on around us. No matter all the things we can’t control. No matter how much things are falling apart. And no matter who sides with whom.

Life is really all about Our Lord. Holding fast to what He says, even when we can’t see a way out. Returning again and again to His Body and Blood, even when everything else tastes like ash in our mouths. And looking into His loving, co-suffering eyes, knowing that He’s always got us and He always gets us through—if we only use the courage and desire, the Spirit He’s given us, to follow the way of life that He is and that He leads us in.

Those words, “I say to you, arise”—they’re not just spoken to a dead man once upon a time in the city of Nain. They were spoken into you, breathed into you, implanted in the depth of your being, when you were baptized, and later chrismated, and then fed God’s Body and Blood.

Those words, “I say to you, arise”—they’re said to raise you up when you no longer feel, when you’ve lost your way, when compassion is hard, when you’re ready to give up. For these are the words the spiritual father speaks when he re-states God’s absolution in the healing Sacrament of Private Confession.

And those word, “I say to you, arise”—that is to be your daily motto. For those words proclaim that the Lord has pulled you up, and will also raise you up on the last day. For you have tasted the Lord’s goodness encased in His holy Body and Blood.

Now when you know that you arise and will arise; when those words become a statement of who you are—a raised, resuscitated, resurrected child of God just as the Son of God was raised—then you are empowered to reach out to others. For you have no fear of falling; you know you’ve been raised; and you know you won’t be left down. So then, with Christ giving you life, you will not be weary in doing good; in helping and reaching out with true deep-seated compassion to those who are downtrodden and ignored and mistreated.

By the prayers of the holy Martyr Eustace and his companions, whose resurrection was revealed in their suffering, may Our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us and save us.

A homily for XV Pentecost
20 September 2020

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Seeking the Kingdom: Homily for Pentecost XIV

Matthew 6.24-33

Anxiety and confidence. These are two masters because they can take control of our day, our heart rate, our mood, our way of seeing things. Anxiety runs us down one path. Confidence runs us down another. Anxiety says that things won’t work out. Confidence says that God’s got us. Anxiety enslaves and paralyzes. Confidence in God’s mercy frees and empowers. Anxiety pulls our head down and urges us to crawl inside ourselves. Confidence in the Lord lifts up our heart and draws us outside of ourselves to Our Lord and others.

These two masters—we cannot serve both. One we must hate. And by the word hate, I mean to turn away from, push down, ignore, and refuse to hear. The other we must love. And by the word love, I mean to embrace, internalize, and make the constant loop in our head.

Anxiety and confidence or faith in God. The two masters that Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel.

Anxiety leads us to focus our thoughts on this world: bodily needs, self-preservation, acceptance by others, posturing.

Confidence in Christ leads us to understand that Our Father gives us all that we need to support this body and life; that He welcomes us as we are; and that He urges us to live outside ourselves, to live for another, and to live without being dominated by our passions: by pride, anger, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, and despair.

Despair. That’s the deadly sin that anxiety feeds. Despair. The deep-seated feeling that nothing matters, that nothing will improve, that we’re on our own and quickly sinking in the quicksand of life.

Jesus meets our despair and urges us to diligently, deliberately, daringly seek the kingdom of God. And His righteousness, His justice. A justice not that we must demand, but that He gives. A justice not about rights, but rooted in His mercy. A justice not for fleeting, momentary fixes about systems and others; but a justice that re-calibrates who we are, and urges us to love those whom we hate.

Seek the Kingdom of God. And His righteous justice.

That’s harder than it seems. For seeking the Lord, His kingdom, and His way of doing things requires that we devote our emotional, mental, and material resources toward one goal, one purpose. And seeking the Lord’s kingdom means that our fears, our desires, our family, our work, and anything else that claims our attention need to be a distant second. Nothing should stand in the way of attaining God’s kingdom.

Seeking God’s kingdom also means that we shift what ‘kingdom’ means. For we tend to locate the kingdom of God in the future, in a heavenly place, in the spiritual. When we do that, we are forgetting that the Kingdom of God is ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

The earthly manifestation and presence of the Kingdom of God is at Mass, in Private Confession and the other sacraments, and in our daily prayers. And that is what we are to seek. More than anything else—more than our anxiety, more than our convenience, more than our other things. To gather as Church, to hear the Lord’s Word in His temple, to worship the Lord in the beauty of the holiness of the saints and angels—that should be our priority, our aim, our life’s goal.

But seeking God’s kingdom doesn’t stop there. The grace we receive from Christ in His churchly kingdom transforms us—if we let it. The food of God’s own Body and Blood, the clothing of His righteousness—that lets us be royal priests, holy citizens, and people who are peculiar. Peculiar because we will not let anxiety master us. Peculiar because confidence and trust in Our Lord Jesus allows us to step out when we would rather step back. Peculiar because we are fueled not by the latest clickbait, but by the Holy Mysteries.

Seeking the kingdom of God, and the justice of His unfair mercy that He lavishes on us anxious people—seeking that relief, that respite, that rest—that is the master we need to chain ourselves to. For this master is really no master, but the Savior of ourselves, from ourselves.

13 September 2020

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Living the Lord’s Mercy: Pentecost XIII homily

When we ask almighty God to give us an increase of faith, hope and charity, we are not asking Him to confirm us in what we feel is right, or to approve the decisions we’ve already made and the actions we’ve already carried out. Instead, we’re admitting that we fail in faith; that our hopes are often wrong-headed; and that our love is self-serving.

So our prayer admits

  • that we too often take matters into our own hands without patiently trusting the Lord to be our defense;
  • that our hopes and desires are usually set on gratifying our passions and what we believe is fair;
  • and that love for others—especially those who hurt us or those who hate us—our love for them is very often overcome by anger and revulsion.

And so we pray—precisely because we do not love deep down what our Lord commands. And yet we know that, apart from His bottomless mercy, we will not obtain the inheritance, the kingdom, the life He promises us.

And we pray—because we give into hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, and envy. And yet we sincerely and earnestly want to partake of the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

And we pray—because by fulfilling the lusts of our flesh, we have sinned against the Spirit and walked our own walk, and not according to the His talk. And yet we know that our only passion should be for Our Lord, and for those whom He loves. And this passion is true only as we internalize His commands about our bodies, our minds, our will, our spirit.

All Our Lord’s commands are rooted in His love for us. For this reason, our prayer must always be, “Lord have mercy.”

Those three words must always be at the heart of every prayer—no matter how many words we use, no matter how much we struggle, no matter how hard it is to live the Lord’s mercy toward others. ‘Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy’ must be our constant prayer. For if the Lord does not have mercy, then faith, hope and love vanish.

So it is the Lord’s mercy we seek when we pray.

  • A mercy that deals with us not as we deserve;
  • A mercy that squelches our anger and meanness;
  • A mercy that gives birth to true brotherly love;
  • A mercy that betters us;
  • And most of all, a mercy that gives us an increase of faith, hope and love.

Every Mass begins with “Kyrie eleison” because we are so dependent on God’s mercy. And every Mass is immersed in, and petitions the Lord to have mercy upon us. For if the Lord does not have mercy, then we are lost and the whole world ceases. But with the Lord’s mercy, there is abundant redemption and plentiful forgiveness; and in His mercy He drags us out of the pit we have dug.

Too often, however, we say, “Lord, have mercy” taking for granted His love. Or we say, “Lord, have mercy” not as a prayer, but as if we were snapping our fingers at a waiter. Or we say, “Lord, have mercy” with no understanding of what He asks of us—to live not by our will, but in His love; and to do not what we think is best, but to trust the commands He gives.

But most of all, we say, “Lord, have mercy” with little thought, and little desire, to thank Him. And too often we receive Our Lord’s mercy not as a gift, but as something we deserve. And then we forget that the Lord’s mercy is not cheap. His mercy is not like ours—a compassion half-heartedly, sometimes grudgingly given.

The Lord’s mercy cost Him the life of His Son. And you know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Yet here is what is best—even our ingratitude; even our disrespect; even our abuse of the Lord’s costly mercy does not stop His mercy, or turn Him against us. And He does not undo what He mercifully did. Just ask anyone who lives under the mercy of God’s rain and sunshine; or anyone who still breathes. Or, better yet, ask the nine lepers who did not return. Their discourteous thanklessness did not bring back their leprosy; they were still healed. So even they, in their foolish self-centeredness—even they tasted the Lord’s mercy, although they did not savor it.

But when we return again and again in praise and thanksgiving; when we sacrifice our notions, our passions and our ambitions; when we offer the Lord all we are and all we have in appreciation for the mercy He gives: then we receive from the Lord

  • not just mercy but also His blessing;
  • not just goods for the body but also goods for the soul;
  • not just the things that make for this life, but also the things that usher us safely into the Kingdom of heaven.

Ask the one leper who returns. This Samaritan cares less about being certified “clean” and returning to his family, and more about worshiping the Lord Jesus who healed him. He thinks less of what people think of him, and more of what the Lord gives Him. So he returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.

There, by that humble act, you see the Holy Spirit at work. There, you see a man who swallows his pride; who acknowledges his unworthiness; who confesses that he is undeserving of any gift from God. And there you see a person who not only appreciates, but also begins to live from the mercy he has received.

For living in the Lord’s mercy begins not by doing for others, but by receiving more and more from the Lord’s hand.

And living in the Lord’s mercy moves forward as you sacrifice yourself—and especially your sense of right and wrong—to partake in what is not rightfully yours.

And living in the Lord’s mercy is grounded in a straight-forward, no excuses confession

  • that you are no better than anyone else;
  • that the Lord should not deal kindly with you;
  • that you are the chief of sinners;
  • and that you cannot live another moment apart from the love, the forgiveness, the compassion, the strength, and the mercy that Our Lord Jesus is and gives.

As you take to heart the Lord’s mercy; as you receive it not just as an idea but as your life—then His Spirit will work in you

  • so that you are merciful just as your heavenly Father has been merciful to you;
  • so that you lay aside all grudges, all notions of revenge, all hatred, all ill-speaking;
  • and so that you live not to gratify your lusts and desires, but to walk in the Spirit with the saints, in true thanksgiving, toward His kingdom, which is your ultimate goal.

Despite our many short-comings, may the Lord continue His mercy to us, within us, and among us. And may we, as His children and heirs of His mercy, live for Him by living mercifully with each other, with all whom we meet, and especially toward those who don’t measure up to our ideal, and who hurt us or hate us.

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