Sunday, January 27, 2013

Practicing the Presence

Talk from XLT

Brother Lawrence
When do you feel the presence of God?  Where do you fell the presence of God?

I recently finished a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”  Its considered a spiritual classic.  It was written by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.  He was a lay brother who lived in a Carmelite monastery in Paris in the 17th century.

He spent most of his life within the monastery.  He didn’t have a lofty title or important job.  He spent most of his life working in the kitchen and repairing his brothers’ sandals.

However, he possessed a holiness that drew many people to seek his spiritual guidance.  And the wisdom he passed on to them in conversation and letters became the basis for his book, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

Spending all that time working in the kitchen helped him develop a spirituality that was deeply intertwined with work and the simple tasks of everyday life.

Click here to buy this book.
Once, in conversation with a visitor seeking his wisdom, Brother Lawrence said that  “we should establish ourselves in the presence of God by continually talking to Him... That we should feed our souls on lofty thoughts of God, and so find great joy in being with Him.  That we should surrender ourselves in things temporal and in things spiritual, entirely and with complete abandonment to God...” (PPG p. 24)

He seems to have taken St. Paul, literally, when the Apostle said to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks...” (1 Thes 5:16-18)

However, Brother Lawrence’s ceaseless prayer wasn’t done on the knees of his body.  But rather, on the knees of his heart, his will, and his spirit.

He told one of his directees that practicing the presence of God “consists of renouncing once and for all everything that does not lead to God, so that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, a conversation free of mystery and of the utmost simplicity.  That we needed only to know God intimately present in us, to address ourselves to HIm at every moment, to ask His aid, to discern His will in doubtful things, and to do well those things we see clearly He is demanding of us offering them to Him before doing them and giving Him thanks for having done them for Him after we have done them.”  (PPG p. 37)
And that’s basically it.

It’s a method of simply being aware of God’s presence that is already there, simply waiting for us to engage the Lord in conversation.  It seems too simple right?  I have to admit, when I read the book, I thought to myself, “Really?  So many people came from all over just to hear Brother Lawrence say that?”  And the truth is, it is extremely simple.  But simple doesn’t mean “easy.”  To live as Brother Lawrence did, seeing God in every task of every day of our life, is a challenge.  But a challenge that, if undertaken, will bring us into greater intimacy with God in precisely those moments where He belongs.  Which is simply, every single moment of our lives.

Although it is a challenge, Brother Lawrence reminds us that God gives us everything we need to practice his presence at all times.  He says that God “does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration... the least little remembrance will always be most pleasing to Him.  One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”  (PPG p. 51)

Your presence here right now is a sign that you know something about practicing the presence.  You know quite a bit about it because you’ve come to be here where He is so profoundly present to us in the Eucharist.  What Brother Lawrence suggests is that our experience here won’t end in an hour.  But can be taken with us after we walk out those doors and be sustained by God’s grace until we meet again.

He says, “It is not necessary to be always in church to be with God, we can make a private chapel of our heart, where we can retire from time to time to commune with Him, peacefully, humbly, lovingly... offer Him your heart from time to time during the day in the midst of your work, at every moment if you can; do not burden yourself with rules or particular devotions but act with faith, with love and with humility.” (PPG p. 52)

Practicing the presence of God, which we do now, is pure joy.  Because it is the closest thing to Heaven when will not merely practice the presence of God, but actually live within His presence eternally.  You and I can experience right now, at this very moment, a foretaste of Heaven when the Father will drown you with His love.

“This King,” Brother Lawrence says, “filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite.  He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways;  He forgives me and relieves me of my principal bad habits without talking about them” (PPG p. 55-56).

An Accurate, Orderly and Certain Gospel

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio
I have here before us a painting.  Without me offering any explanation of it, you can tell me a number of things about it.  You can tell me what you see.

You can tell me who is in the picture.  The man on the left is obviously Jesus.  He has the usual Jesus haircut and beard, the white robe, and you see the wounds of his crucifixion: the holes in his hands and his pierced side.  The man on the right is obviously Thomas.  His finger enters the pierced side of Christ.  And he is amazed by what he sees indicated by the exaggerated furrrowing of his brow.

You can tell me about other things that you see: the other men in the painting, the color of their clothing, or the stark black background.

But there other things you can tell me about this painting.  You can tell me things about this painting you don’t see, but nevertheless can be certain about.

For instance, on the back of the painting is a well worn hanging wire.  Even though you’ve never seen this picture hanging on a wall, you can certain though logical deduction that it has hung on a wall somewhere.

Another thing: this painting is matted and framed.  Even though you’ve never seen the act of this painting being matted and framed, you can be certain through logical deduction that at some point in the past someone chose a matte, frame and glass, cut them all and fitted the painting within it.

Lastly, and quite simply, it is a painting.  Meaning that it has a painter.  This painting didn’t just come into existence on its own.  Even though you’ve never seen him face to face, you know that this creation has a creator.  He’s one of my favorite painters and his name is Caravaggio.

The beginning of today’s Gospel reading are the very first words of the Gospel of Luke.  Listen again to St. Luke’s words, particularly the claims, the bold claims he makes: “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” (Lk 1:3-4)

What are the bold claims Luke makes at the beginning of his Gospel?  Three words in particular stand out:  That he has investigated everything accurately.  That he has written down his findings in an orderly manner.  And that we may be certain of it.  Luke claims that what we read in his Gospel is accurate, orderly, and certain.  In other words, it’s true.

How Do We Know?  How Can We Be Certain?  Like a painting, we can be certain that Luke tells us, not only by what we see or hear, such as the words of his Gospel which he pledge is accurate and orderly, but we can also be certain about the claims of Luke, the claims of the other Gospel writers, Saint Paul, and the Church by what we can deduce, by those things we can know without seeing.  Because there are effects of the truth of the Gospel.  There is evidence of the truth of the Gospel.

We as Christians believe that there is a God.  But how can we be certain?  Well, consider His effects, His creatures.  Everywhere you look, you see something; you see creation.  You see trees, little rivers, mountains Gandalf, mountains!  We’re looking at God’s painting.  Just as we can say with confidence that this painting has a painter, likewise, we can say with confidence that creation must have a creator.

St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas called this his argument for the existence of God based on contingency.  In it, he says that all things come into being and pass out of being.  In his documentary series, Catholicism, Fr. Robert Barron uses the example of a summer cloud to illustrate the point.  A summer cloud will come into being in the sky and just as easily pass away.
So you ask yourself, where did it come from?  How did it get there?

Now, someone who is a skeptic of God’s existence might say that the cloud was formed by moisture, the wind and the atmosphere.  But these too are contingent.  Where did they come from?  Well, someone may argue that they come from the jet stream and the movement of the planet.  But likewise the planet is contingent.  Where did it come from?  Someone might argue that the earth came into existence by the great events and structures of the universe.
But still, scientists say that even the universe came into existence 13 billion years ago.  Where did it come from?

Eventually, St. Thomas says, you must finally admit to a reality that does exist through itself.  We must come to some necessary being whose very nature is to be.  This is what people mean by God.  This is what God Himself says He is, when Moses asks Him HIs name: “I am who I am.”

When we look at the world, when we read the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible), when we see the witness of the martyrs, we are looking upon the effects, the evidence, of a God who really exists.  We are looking upon a painting that has a real painter behind it.
"The Conversion of St. Paul" by Caravaggio
Consider just one of the effects of God.  This past Friday was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  You’re all familiar with the story: before he was known by the name Paul, the man named Saul was a devout Jew.  And being a devout Jew, he thought this new religion known as Christianity was gross blasphemy.  And so he made it his mission in life to put Christianity to death by throwing its members in prison and standing by while others were stoned to death.

Then, all of a sudden, his life does a complete 180.  He becomes a Christian and it’s greatest promoter traveling the known world; proclaiming the Good News and establishing Churches in the name of Christ.

How?  Why?  We’re told, in St. Luke’s sequel to his Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, that Saul met Christ on the road to Damascus, was blinded by Christ’s light and heard the voice of Jesus which asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (cf. Acts 22:6-9)

Well, that’s what Paul says anyway.  How can we be certain that Luke’s investigation is accurate and orderly?

Well, if Jesus doesn’t really exist and if Paul made it all up, it doesn’t make sense.  Because Paul was not looking for Jesus.  Paul hated Jesus. He hated the followers of Jesus.  He hated the Christian Church.  He was a Jew and also a Roman citizen who enjoyed all the privilege of that citizenship.  His life was great before he met Jesus.  And from an earthly point of view, his life got incredibly worse after meeting Jesus.  Five times at the hands of the Jews he was whipped 39 times, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, 
three times he was shipwrecked.  Finally, he was beheaded with a sword.

Why would Paul leave his former life and choose this new one?  Because he met someone he wasn’t even trying to find.  He met Christ.  And Christ was real.  And meeting him changed Paul’s life forever.  Paul is just one corner of the great painting of Christianity.  And God is the painter.  No man could make this up.  No man would make this up.  Paul wouldn’t choose his life on his own.  He chose it because Christ is real.

God is real.  Just look at the world around you.  Christ is real.  Just look at his Church, his martyrs, his Saints.  The Eucharist you are about to receive is real.  Just look within your own heart and your own faith.

What St. Luke tells us today, and what he will continue to tell us all year long is real.  God has sent us His Son. “to bring glad tidings to the poor” “to proclaim liberty to captives” to give “sight to the blind” “to let the oppressed go free” “and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (cf Lk 4:18-19)

It is accurate.  It is orderly.  It is certain.  It is true.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Marriage Destroyed, Repaired and Restored

Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

This couple I know got married a while back.  They were the perfect couple.  

When he first saw her, he said, “This is the girl of my dreams.  There is no one else for me.”  They fell completely in love and got married.  In the beginning, everything was perfect.  They loved and respected each other completely.  They shared everything.  They had a great relationship with God.  They were the perfect couple living in a perfect world.

Then things went sour.  Their communication with one another started to fall apart.  As did their communication with God.  Their attention turned to material things.  They started hiding things from one another.  Indeed, they started hiding themselves, their own lives from one another.  The perfect couple and the perfect world fell apart.

However, a few years after the breakup, this couple’s family intervened.  Specifically, their mother and son, stepped into the picture to patch things up.  Mom noticed right away, as a mother would, how things weren’t as they once were.  She saw that the joy this couple once had had now run out.  And being a wise mother, she knew she couldn’t fix this on her own, she didn’t have the power to do so.  So she called the son for help and he came to the rescue.

You know the names of the perfect couple whose marriage went sour.  Their names are Adam & Eve.  In the beginning, everything was perfect.  Until they decided they knew better than God.  Then their world (and ours) came tumbling down.  And their marriage (and ours) came tumbling down.

And you know the names of the mother and son who intervened.  Their names are Mary and Jesus.  At Cana, Mary saw that the couple’s wine had run out.  They had lost their joy.  And she knew, she didn’t have the power to fix what had gone wrong.  However, she knew better than anyone else who to go to.  So she called her son for help and Jesus came to the rescue.

However, Jesus’ rescue mission didn’t consist merely of changing water into wine.  And his rescue mission didn’t consist merely of repairing the marriage of Adam and Eve.  Rather, his rescue mission restored our marriage.  Our marriage with God the Father.

Today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah says, “As a young man married a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”

God wants to marry us.  God is our Builder.  He is the bridegroom and we are the bride.  He wants an indissoluble union with us.  He freely chooses to enter into a covenant with us and he invites us to freely choose to enter that covenant with Him.  He is faithful to us and he wants us to be faithful to him.  And he wants our union with him to be fruitful.

So he sent us His Son, Jesus, and gave him to our Mother, Mary, so that the two of them, together, could unravel and reverse the destruction wrought by Adam and Eve in Eden.

Whereas, Eve lead Adam to take of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;  Mary, the New Eve, lead Jesus, the New Adam, to change water into the fruit of the vine.

Whereas, Adam and Eve reached for the fruit from the branch of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Jesus, the New Adam, reached for the branches of the Tree of Life, the Cross, and allowed his outstretched arms to be nailed to it.

Whereas, God the Father cast Adam into a deep sleep and from his open side took a rib and formed it into his bride, Eve; God the Father cast Jesus, the New Adam, into the deep sleep of death and from his open side brought forth his bride, the Church, through the blood and water, signs of the Eucharist and Baptism, that poured from his heart

Whereas Adam and Eve said “no” to God’s will through their disobedience; Mary, the New Eve, said “yes” when the angel Gabriel announced it was God’s will that she be the mother of Jesus.  And Jesus, the New Adam, said “yes” to God’s will that he give his life as a ransom for many.

Jesus calls Mary “woman” at Cana, saying that his hour had not yet come.  When his hour at last had come when he was nailed to his cross, he again calls Mary “woman” when she entrusts him to the Apostle John.  He calls her “woman” not out of disrespect, but because Mary is the new woman, she is the model of Mother Church.  And so the two times, Jesus calls Mary “woman” are two weddings: the wedding at Cana which foreshadows the wedding at Calvary, when Christ unites himself to his bride, the Church, by doing what all spouses should do for each other: hand their lives over to each other.

From the Cross, God “marry’s” us.  The wedding at Eden was a marriage destroyed.  The wedding at Cana was a marriage repaired.  And the wedding at Calvary is a marriage restored.

I want to conclude by recommending two suggestions for your marriage:
First, if you are a single person, still discerning marriage (and all are called to a marriage of some kind: either marriage to a husband or wife, to the Church as a priest, to Christ as a religious sister or brother, or to Christ and his people as a generous single person) if you are still discerning your vocation: pray for your future spouse every day.

You may not even know who they are.  You may not know what they’re doing at this precise moment.  But someday, you will meet them.  And when you get down on your knees and ask them to marry you, when they say “yes,” you can say to them,  “I have been praying for you every day for the last however many years.  I didn’t even know you then.  But I prayed just for you and just for this moment.”  

They will already love you if they’re saying “yes” to your proposal.  Think for a moment how much more they’ll fall in love with you when they learn you prayed for them for years before you even met.

And second, if you are already married and you and your spouse look more like Adam and Eve after the Fall in Eden than you do the newlywed couple at Cana, ask for some family intervention.  Ask your mother, Mary, and the Son, Jesus for help.  One place you’ll find them for sure, is here in the Church through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

Click here to go to Third Option.
Another is through “Third Option.”  “Third Option” is an on-going group program to build better marriages.  It’s designed for all married couples and can be used for marriage enrichment or crisis intervention.  

When couples struggle they’ll say they’ve tried everything.  What they usually means is they tried the same two extreme options over and over: they’ve either stuffed their anger or attacked with it.  The “Third Option” is the healthy middle ground that teaches relationship skills such as handling anger constructively, ending the blame game, understanding expectations, forgiveness, rebuilding trust and control issues.

Our group meets twice a month at an off-campus location to provide complete confidentiality.
There are brochures in the gathering space and next to the exit by the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  Pick one up. Or, if you don’t wish someone to see you picking it up, call our office and ask to speak to a priest.  You don’t have to say why to the secretary.  And the priest will help you.

It’s ironic: Every marriage is Eden in the beginning.  Everything’s perfect.  But ironically, it doesn’t always feel like paradise.  Eden after all is the place where the first marriage was destroyed.

And every marriage is Calvary.  There are moments of pain and crucifixion.  But ironically, Calvary is the place where our marriages with God and with our spouse are restored.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Signing on the Dotted Line

Homily from the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord - Year C

If you’ve ever entered into a contract, you know that the gesture which “seals the deal” and finalizes the terms of the contract is affixing your signature; “signing on the dotted line.”

We can look at baptism as a kind of “signing on the dotted line.”  In the Gospels, we’re told that John the Baptist went around “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  

So the people came to John the Baptist, they acknowledged themselves as sinners, and, in doing so, expressed repentance and their desire to have their sins forgiven by God.  And by kneeling down in the Jordan River and permitting John to pour water over their heads, they proverbially “signed their names on the dotted line” agreeing to enter into a life of conversion and to turn away from sin.

So why on earth would Jesus “sign on the dotted line” through baptism?  Jesus, of course, is without sin.  He has no need for baptism.  So why does he do it?  Why does he kneel down in the Jordan River and permit John to pour the waters of baptism over his head?

Jesus “signs on the dotted line” not for his sake, but for ours.  Jesus allows himself to be baptized not because he has to be cleansed of sin, but because we do.

Pope Benedict XVI puts it in these words in volume one of his three volume series, “Jesus of Nazareth.”:  “Jesus loaded the burden of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan.”

Baptism is offered for the forgiveness of sins.  So, Jesus begins his public ministry, with baptism because his entire life and his death will be offered for the forgiveness of our sins.  Here, at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, we see him already anticipating his death on the Cross.

After all, Jesus often referred to his suffering and death as a “baptism.”  When James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom of Heaven he asks them, “can you... be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38)  Meaning, “Will you be able to suffer and die as I will?”  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, anticipating his passion says, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” (Lk 12:50)

By being baptized, Jesus is “signing on the dotted line” in a contract with his Father.  Through his baptism, Jesus is saying to the Father: “I will give my life for them.  So that, just as you Father call me your beloved son, so they may also become your beloved sons and daughters.”

When you and I were baptized, we “signed on the dotted line.”  Meaning that we become disciples, faithful followers, of the one who “signed on the dotted line” for us for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation.  Or, as Pope Benedict says, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus’ Baptism.  It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him.  The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could go to the place of Jesus’ baptism; to the Jordan River in the Holy Land?  To even walk into those same waters where Jesus himself walked?  Where he lowered himself with the burden of our sins upon his shoulders?

Actually, that’s precisely one of the recommendations we’re given by the Church in this “Year of Faith.”  The Vatican recommends going on a religious pilgrimage this year.  Perhaps to the Holy Land, or to Rome, or to one of the Marian Shrines such as Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe.

Now, obviously it won’t be possible for all of us to make a pilgrimage for all of us, or even many of us, to one of these suggested sites.  However, I would like to suggest all of us, who are able, to go on a more attainable religious pilgrimage: sometime during this “Year of Faith” let’s go, if we are able, to the place where we were baptized.

Font where Bl. Pope John Paul II
was baptized.
Blessed Pope John Paul II did this several times.  He went there in 1966, when he was Archbishop of the Diocese of Krakow.  He visited again on the 50th anniversary of his baptism when he was a Cardinal.  And again in 1979, when he visited there as Pope.  And each time, he kissed the baptismal font.

Let’s go on pilgrimage to, and pray at, the exact spot where we were washed of Original Sin.  Let’s go to the place where we reborn into new life as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.  Let’s go to the place where we were made living temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  This year, let’s go to the place where we “signed on the dotted line.”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Don't Wander. Follow A Star.

Homily from the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord - Year C

I need a volunteer.  I’ve hidden something very important somewhere in this building and I want you to go find it.  It’s very, very precious to me.  Next to the Eucharist, it may be the most important things in my life.  It’s bacon.  I’ve hidden some bacon somewhere in this building.  Now go find it.

How?  You need a map.

While they’re looking for the bacon, have any of you seen the Catholics Come Home commercial with Lou Holtz?  It’s fantastic.  You may know Coach Holtz is Catholic.  In fact, he’s a daily communicant (which means he goes to Mass and receives communion every day.)  And in the video, he invites those who may have fallen away from the practice of the faith to come back home to the Catholic church.  If you want to see it, just tune in to the National Championship game Monday night where it will air on national television.  Coach Holtz begins the video saying, “For victory in life, we’ve got to keep focused on the goal; and the goal is Heaven.”

We all want to go to Heaven.  That’s our goal.  But ask yourself this question:  How are you going to get there?  What’s your plan?  What’s your roadmap?  

Just like our friend here who couldn’t find the bacon without directions, we can’t get to Heaven without directions either.  If we try to wander our way into Heaven, the chances are very slim we’ll get there.

When the Wise Men decided to go look for the child Jesus, they didn’t wander aimlessly across the desert hoping to run into him.  They followed instructions.  They followed a roadmap.  They followed the guiding light given to them by God: they followed the star.

I made a resolution to lose 20 lbs this year.  That’s my goal.  But I won’t reach my goal without a plan; without a guiding star if you will.  So, my plan is to go to the gym, once a week in January.  (Baby steps.)  In February, I’ll go twice a week.  Come March, we’ll see if I’m stupid enough to go three times a week.

Heaven is a destination like any other.  Actually, Heaven is a destination unlike any other.  So we should have a plan to get there unlike any other.

God has given us a guiding light for getting to Heaven: Christ and his Church.  Before Christ ascended to Heaven, he gave his Apostles one last instruction: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19)  Where did you receive that gift of Christ, your baptism?  Here in the Church.  

Where did you first hear the Word of God and where do you continue to hear it week after week?  Here in the Church.  

Where do you receive the gift of Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist?  Here in the Church.

Where do you gather together with your brothers and sisters in Christ to offer sacrifice and worship to the Lord?  Here in the Church.

So, what is your plan for getting to Heaven? (and trust me, I ask this question of myself as well.)  How are we going to move closer to Christ and closer to Heaven this year through our life in the Church?  Some of them are givens like going to Mass every Sunday, praying every day, going to Confession regularly.  But what will you do differently this year?

What is your concrete plan?
  • Will you read a book of the Bible this month?
  • Will you read a spiritual classic by one of the Saints this year?
  • Will you go on a Christ Renews His Parish weekend?
  • Will you attend the diocesan men’s conference or women’s conference?
  • Will you seek the answer to your question about the Catholic faith by asking a priest or listening to Redeemer Radio?
  • If your marriage needs help, will you seek counseling or attend Third Option?
  • If you repeatedly struggle with vice of anger or gossip or pornography or any other habitual sin will you seek the loving counsel of a priest in confession and take concrete steps to turn away from it?
  • Will you try to patch up that relationship that has gone sour?
  • Will you go on the Edge or Life Teen retreats this year?
  • Will you clean out the closet of any clothes you haven’t worn in a year and give them to the poor?
  • Will you clean out the pantry of food you can share with the hungry?
  • Will you make a weekly or daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel?
There are literally hundreds of things we could do this year to move closer to Christ and Heaven.  But none of them will matter unless we actually choose and do one or two of them.  This is the time of year where we make resolutions.  Today, let’s resolve to get to Heaven.  But let’s not wander our way there.  Let’s take a moment now to prayerfully discern in silence the concrete plan, the guiding star, we’ll follow as we journey this year to Christ and our Heavenly destination.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lou Holtz Calls Us Home

Check out this awesome "Catholics Come Home" video featuring Lou Holtz.  It will air nationally during the BCS Championship game on Monday.

God bless and Go Irish!!!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"And the Friend Jumps In the Hole."

Homily from the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God - Year C

A few years ago there was a popular television show called The West Wing and it was about  the behind the scenes activity of the White House.  In one of the episodes, one of the characters tells a friend a story about a man who fell down a hole.

"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.  A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.  Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on  Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

That’s basically what we’ve been celebrating this past Christmas.  That when God sees humanity fall into the hole of sin, He doesn’t just throw down a prescription or a prayer on a piece of paper.  Rather, he jumps down into the hole with us by becoming one of us; by being born as a man, in order to show us the way out of the hole of our sin and into grace.

That’s really what we’re celebrating today on this Feast of Mary, Mother of God.  It may sound like a feast to honor Mary (and it is, in part).  But primarily, it is a feast to honor Jesus for coming to save us by being born as one of us and lead us out of sin.

We call Mary, the Mother of God all the time.  We have no problem with it.  However, centuries ago, some people did have a problem with it.

Way back, in the 5th century, one person in particular, a bishop named Nestorius said we shouldn’t call Mary the Mother of God.  He was concerned with a couple things: first, that calling Mary the Mother of God suggested she was some sort of goddess; and second, that the all-powerful God could not possibly suffer and die.

Nestorius basically said that Jesus’ two natures: his divine nature as God and his human nature as man could not be united in the person of Jesus Christ.  That somehow, Jesus put aside his divine nature for a time; then was born as a man and took on human nature; suffered, died and was buried; then put back on his divine nature at the resurrection.

However, the Church said, that’s not what we believe.  Because no mere man can save humanity.  Only God can save us.  Jesus is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.  And for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.

He, who is of the same substance, or consubstantial, with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, also became consubstantial with us.  He, who possessed the divine nature took on our human nature so he could lift us human beings into his divinity.

In a few moments, when we prepare the altar for the Eucharist, I’ll pour a little bit of water into the wine.  One of the things the water and wine represent are the two natures of Christ.  The water represents his human nature and the wine represents his divine nature.  And as I mix them, I silently pray, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  As St. Paul said to the Galatians in our second reading: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5)

That’s why Jesus jumped into the hole with us.  Because he knows we don’t belong there.  And he knows the way out.

In the story, the guy who jumps into the hole says, “I’ve been here before, I know the way out.”  In a sense Jesus has been here before too.  Not that he’s ever fallen into sin.  Rather, he knows what true human nature is.  He is the perfect human being.  He understands what His Father’s design for humanity was before Adam and Eve fell and took all of us with them into that hole.  So, it we want to know what it really means to be a human being in it’s fullest meaning, we must look to the person of Jesus Christ.

New Years is the time we make resolutions.  Allow me to suggest one; and I’m going to make it extremely broad so that you can discern how you want to do it.  This year, let Christ lead you out of the hole.  

We will be tempted to turn to so many other things to try to pull ourselves out of our holes: diets, self-improvement, intellectual pursuits, more money.  And while all of these can be goods, none of them can take the place of the supreme good: Jesus Christ and none of them, in and of themselves can lead us out of our holes.  Only Christ can do that.

Let Christ be the one who leads you out of your hole.  Recognize, that we’re all in the hole.   And at the same time, recognize that this isn’t our true nature.  It’s not where we belong.   There is a way out.  It may take a lifetime and beyond to get out of it completely.  But recognize that Christ has jumped down into the hole with us.  And he’s the only one who can get us out.  So let’s follow him more closely in 2013.