Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

(I’m posting the first draft of my homily for Respect Life Sunday. While it became a bit too long for me to preach, as I try to stay within 5-7 minutes on my homilies, I felt that the whole thing needed to be posted here.)

Vineyards were very prevalent in the Holy Land, so it’s not unexpected that both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus would use a vineyard in the readings that we just heard. Much as farmers and ranchers protect their land today with fences, the vineyards were protected from wild animals and those who would try to steal from the vineyard with fences and hedges. For God to remove his protection on the Israelite people would be like the farmer removing the fences and hedges that protect the vineyard.

Why would God remove his protection from Israel? He gave the Israelite people the Promised Land and led them in battle against far larger numbers. He even called them the Chosen People, so why allow them to be conquered? He did this so that the Israelite people would return to Him and give up worship of false gods from other nations, much like an overgrown vineyard being cleared and replanted.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus goes after the religious leaders who have rejected Him and the prophets that came before Him. He states that the vineyard, God’s chosen people, will be removed from the Jewish religious authorities and given to the care of His Church. Now, instead of the Jewish temple with the Levitical priesthood and the Sadducees and Pharisees leading the people, we have the Church to care for God’s people.

As part of her mission, the Church is called to proclaim the truths of Christ to the whole world. While much of what the Church teaches is welcomed by people both within the Church and outside of her, there are more than a few areas of Church teaching that are disagreed upon, sometimes very tenaciously. This becomes no more apparent than during election campaign season, which we are obviously well into in the United States. At times like this, the Church’s teachings often stand in direct opposition to the platforms advanced by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.

This weekend, one month before the Presidential election, we mark Respect Life Sunday. Due to the bombardment of political slogans, promises, and misinformation that occurs in most political campaigns, issues that directly affect human life are often thrown around in order to score political points and smear the opposition. With all the noise the comes with political campaigning, it is all the more crucial that we as Catholics become informed voters, electing politicians who will ensure the respect for all human life, regardless of what stage of life it is in.

This issue became all the more apparent in the last several months, when not one, but two Catholic politicians went on national TV and misrepresented Catholic teaching on when life begins. When acting as politicians, the bishops keep out of the way, but when politicians try to present themselves as learned theologians, as these two politicians did, the bishops have to respond, and respond they did. Well over 20 bishops wrote in response, including our own Bishop Warfel in the latest issue of the Harvest. These politicians presented an erroneous position on the respect for life.

So, this brings up the obvious question: what is the Church’s position on respecting life? In short, human life must be respected from conception to natural death. We believe, thanks to the incredible advances of science, that human life begins at very moment of conception. We also believe that all humans have been made in the image and likeness of God, and each human being must be respected as beloved children of God, from the smallest embryo to the poorest of the poor.

Throughout history, human dignity and respect has always been under attack. From racism and slavery to poverty and war, sins of humanity carry a terrible toll on recognizing the beauty and dignity of all humans. Some issues, however, are a direct attack on human life and must be seriously considered when voting for candidates for public office at any level, not only the Presidency and the federal Congress, but also candidates for state and local levels. Three issues in particular have become particularly urgent within the current election cycle: abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. All three of these issues view particular classes of humans as either problems to be removed or matter to be experimented with. By viewing any human as an object to be manipulated, we denigrate the dignity of all humanity.

To justify a particular candidate who might be troublesome in one of the three issues, a Catholic might say, “He’s in line with the Church on illegal immigration and poverty, even if he does support embryonic stem cell research.” While it is good that this politician supports respecting the dignity of illegal immigrants and those who are suffering from poverty, they have to have life in order for poverty or immigration to be problems that they’re facing. Without the right to life, all other rights become irrelevant.

As Catholics, we are called to uphold the respect of all life in our lives, and during this election cycle, we are called to vote for candidates who have a true respect for life. This may mean having to vote for a candidate that we may not particularly like or may be running for a party that we have not traditionally voted for. For those who are politically conservative, this may involve voting for a candidate who is on the liberal side of the political spectrum, or vice versa. We must not vote for a candidate who will not stand for the respect of life, regardless of how good their other issues may appear.

In our culture, human life is under direct attack. This November, we must elect politicians who will use the power of government to respect human life, starting with those who are most defenseless, the unborn and the elderly.

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that all of us have a selfish streak deep within us. In some way or another, we all want to be recognized for something we have or do. Whether it’s for our talents, for the work that we do, or even for things that we own, we want to be noticed and affirmed.

In contrast to our selfish desires, we are called to “do nothing out of selfishness and vainglory,” as St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading. As Christians, we are called to self-giving instead of self-centered. We are called to reach out to those around us instead of trying to draw others to us.

Ironically, by being self-giving, we can often become unappreciated. Many of us probably know someone who is self-centered, and has moved up the ranks of an organization, whether a corporation, a political structure, or a volunteer organization, based off of promoting himself to the exclusion and even detriment of those around him. Meanwhile, we may also know another member of the organization that has worked just as hard as the selfish member, but works to support and help the other members of the organization. This self-giving member may not receive the promotions and accolades of those who are willing to “toot their own horn”, but still continues to serve, day after day.

We are called to be like the self-giving member of an organization, even if it means giving to others to the detriment of ourselves. St. Paul tells us to “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” We must be willing to overlook our interests, our desires, even our needs to fulfill the needs and interests of others.

Why should we be willing to do this? After all, someone who is more selfish than us will more than happily take advantage of us. St. Paul answers this question by showing us the example of Jesus himself. As St. Paul states, Our Lord humbled himself by becoming human and was willing to give of himself so totally that he died on the Cross. Because of his self-sacrifice, He was highly exalted by the Father, and now we proclaim the name of Jesus with great honor and reverence.

We probably won’t be as greatly revered as Jesus is, but those who are willing to give of themselves are often highly regarded by those they serve. As a new priest here, I’ve been hearing about those who were members of the parish before I arrived. Usually, and almost without exception, the people whose names are mentioned time and time again are those who went out of their way to serve others, regardless of their own issues or problems. They were there at every social event, usually helping put it together, at every volunteer opportunity, and every time someone was in need of help. I’m sure all of us could name someone who fits that description, and who is dearly missed. This is who we are called to be, and we are encouraged by the examples of those who have gone before us, especially Our Lord and the saints.

Those who are self-giving aren’t often noticed here on Earth. There are those who graciously serve us every day, and we often don’t pay attention to how someone has gone out of their way to help us. All too often, we’re wrapped up in ourselves and our needs to recognize the needs of those around us. We must be more aware of how others serve us, and be more willing to express gratitude for their service.

As I am very much guilty of this, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who help out here in the Church, and all those who have helped Fr. Rob and myself in some way. I truly am grateful for everything you do, and appreciate the willingness of each of you to give your time and talent to helping us. It is greatly appreciated, even if I don’t always take the time to say so.

St. Paul reminds us that we are all called to place others over ourselves. By doing so, we may not be recognized on Earth, but our reward will be great in Heaven.

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Most of us seem to have an inherent sense of justice, even if it seems to get a bit skewed at times. How many have ever heard a child say, “That’s not fair”? In fact, most children will say this on a regular basis, usually about the time they find out their bedtime is before their friends’, or when they’re not allowed to do something that their friends are allowed to do. Our sense of justice might even kick in when reading the parable in today’s Gospel. We might feel that the workers who spent all day toiling in the hot sun were being unjustly treated by requiring them to accept the same wage as those who only worked an hour. To take this view, however, would miss that the point of the parable is to demonstrate the generosity of God towards all of us.

If this scenario occurred today, we would be rightly up in arms regarding the treatment of these workers. Justice would demand that those workers who were in the vineyard all day get far better pay than those who only worked for the last hour of the day. Special interest groups would probably be picketing the landowner. Lawyers would be lining up to sue on behalf of one worker or another. Advocates for vineyard workers would be petitioning Congress to pass a vineyard minimum hourly wage. From a human vantage, all these groups would be working to ensure equal treatment of each worker, making sure they get paid what they’re due.

I don’t want to belittle the fact that there are workers today who are not receiving a fair wage, even in our own country. Likewise, I don’t want to belittle the efforts of those who struggle to ensure that all workers receive a just and livable wage. Their efforts are laudable and do good to improve the life of these underpaid and overworked workers, but to take this approach to Our Lord’s parable misses the point.

In this parable, Jesus is demonstrating the incredible generosity that God has for us. God, our Heavenly Father, wants all of us to accept His gift of grace. Some of us have been followers of Our Lord from almost the moment of our births. Others came to Him after some time, say after high school. Still others came much later in life. Finally, there are some who came to believe in Our Lord on their death bed, receiving Baptism or Confession literally moments before their lives on earth ended.

On a human level, this might seem unfair, but the first reading reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways. God wants all of us to be saved, not only those who have been “good” Christians. While we might be tempted to call out “Not fair!” when a notorious sinner gets to confess his sins and receive absolution on his death bed, while we struggle along trying to follow Our Lord’s commands, we should instead rejoice that another sinner received God’s gift of salvation.

We have all been given the same promise, and will receive the same reward of God’s grace regardless of when we respond to Our Lord. Those of us who have been Christians longer will not receive a “special” grace merely for our longevity. Likewise, those who are new Christians will not receive a “probationary” grace, much like a new driver receives a probationary license. The graces we receive as Christians are the same, graces that will help us to receive the final gift of eternal life.

As Christians, we have received the benefit of God’s generosity. May we rejoice every time we see someone else experience this generosity.

Homily for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

One of the most powerful symbols we have in Christianity is the Crucifix. You’ll usually see one either on or behind the altar of Catholic churches throughout the world. Many Rosaries have one, and many of us have Crucifixes that we wear on a day-to-day basis. The Cross of Christ, which a Crucifix depicts, symbolizes the means by which we receive our salvation.

If I were to summarize the message of the Gospel of Christ, I would point to today’s reading from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This is the mission of Jesus, why he came into the world and why he was willing to hang on the Cross and die. This is why we venerate the Cross today, as it was how he sacrificed his life for our sake.

As Our Lord himself mentions in today’s Gospel reading, his Crucifixion was prefigured in the Old Testament, with the Bronze Serpent made by Moses. When the Israelites looked at the Bronze Serpent after being bit by a snake, they would be healed from the snake’s poison. Many of the early Church Fathers viewed the snakes as representing the sin which affects us, spreading its poison within us until we die. When we look upon Our Lord hung upon the Cross and believe in Him, that poison would be removed and we would live. Much as the Israelites would look at the Bronze Serpent and live, we look at the Cross of Christ and receive our eternal life.

An example of this is given in the good thief who was crucified along with Jesus. This thief, commonly known as Dismas, looked upon Our Lord hanging on the Cross and believed in Him. In return for the good thief’s belief, Our Lord promised him that he would enter into Paradise. This thief was the first to receive the benefit of the saving power of the Cross.

Saying that we receive life through the Cross is very ironic. Crucifixion was the most painful and humiliating way in which a criminal could be put to death in the Roman Empire. It was so humiliating that it was reserved solely for non-Roman citizens. By Our Lord’s death on the Cross, he transformed this instrument of death into the symbol of eternal life. By humiliating himself, allowing himself to be raised onto the Cross, he glorified himself and those who believe in him. Now, instead of the Cross being the sign of punishment and defeat, it is the sign of Our Lord’s victory over death and our reward of eternal life.

While it would be humiliating for any one of us to undergo Crucifixion, it was more humiliating for Our Lord. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus was not merely human, but was both fully human and fully divine. As such, Jesus first humiliated himself by becoming one of us. Then, at the appointed time, he was obedient to the Father and allowed himself to be tortured and Crucified. Through his humiliation, Jesus received glorification beyond anything that he would receive here on earth.

If Our Lord, who is God, was willing to humble himself for our sake, what right do we have to be prideful over the things we have and do? This is all the more reason why the sin of pride is so deadly. Through pride, we make ourselves higher and more important than God, at least in our own eyes. If we feel that we’re higher than God, we become unwilling to listen to His commands and His Church. We think we know more than He does and refuse to follow those teachings that we disagree with. Then, when our time for God’s Judgment arrives, we will turn away from the saving power of the Cross, much like the bad thief who hung on the other side of Our Lord.

We must approach Our Lord with humility and accept the salvation which comes to us through the Cross of Christ. We must admit our sins and failings, and ask God’s forgiveness through the Sacraments. If we do this, like the good thief, we will receive the salvation Our Lord promises us, and join Him one day in Paradise.

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our readings today are very challenging for different groups of people. They’re challenging for those who struggle with being selfish. They’re challenging for those who do not wish to enter into a confrontation with those around them. In fact, they’re challenging for all of us, as they challenge us to love our neighbor above ourselves.

In the second reading today, St. Paul gives us a very handy summary of most of the Ten Commandments. This summary, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” really sums up most of the moral law which we hold today, but it is not only a summary. This commandment is also an explanation for us on why we need to follow the commandments and moral law. We don’t follow the commandments because we want to. We don’t follow the moral law because it feels good. We are to follow the commandments and the moral law because God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

How do we do that? How can we love our neighbors as ourselves? We must not allow ourselves to become self-centered, focused solely on ourselves and what we can get out of life, making others our servants. Instead, we have to open ourselves to our neighbors, reach out to them and assist them in their needs without any concern for our own selfish desires. Our selfish desires would have us turn inward, searching for what I want, when I want it, and how I want it. When we follow the commandment to love our neighbor, we focus outward, desiring what those around need before we get what we want. We also need to treat our neighbors with respect and true Christian love, even those around us who are unwilling to reciprocate.

Respecting our neighbors and loving them as ourselves does not mean that we are to be pushovers without a backbone, allowing those around us to do whatever they want whenever it suits them. As the first reading shows, sometimes we need to challenge our neighbors’ actions in order to truly love them. It is not love to allow someone to remain in error, but love of neighbor includes a desire to share the truth with those we interact with on a daily basis.

This can be very difficult in a culture, such our own, which places individualism above anything else. In our culture, the individual is primary, those around him or her is secondary. Often, when someone is trying to correct another person who has fallen into sin, they are told that they have no business butting in when it doesn’t hurt anyone else. The sad fact is that all sin affects the entire community by weakening the bonds between us and by changing how we view each other.

When one is obstinate in their sin, and refuses to change after being corrected, they can become confrontational. Fortunately, Our Lord gives us an outline to handle any confrontation that can come our way when sharing the truth. An important aspect of this outline is the position of the Church as final arbiter. After confronting the person directly, then bringing two or three others to support you, the Church is brought in with the final say.

If this person still refuses to change their position after hearing the Church’s teaching, there is no choice but to declare the person excommunicated from the Church. Through the process of excommunication, the Church declares that a person has, through their own actions, separated themselves from the rest of the Church. By declaring someone excommunicated, the Church is trying to make them aware of their position outside of the community and bring them back into the fold.

Sadly, there are more than a few people who persist in a excommunicated state. This is especially worrisome, as the Church has been given the power to bind and loose in Heaven as it is on earth. This means that one who has been excommunicated is at risk of incurring eternal consequences. They may have not only separated themselves from the Church through their actions, they may have also turned away from God, focusing instead on themselves and placing their opinions over the revelation of God, protected and taught by the Church.

For those of us who are in communion with the Church, we need to first of all pray for those who have left the Church. Second, we need to encourage them to return and ask forgiveness, as we all need whenever we enter into sin. Finally, we need to open ourselves to our neighbors, and truly live the Gospel message in our lives.

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Poor Saint Peter. He just can’t seem to catch a break, can he? In last week’s Gospel, he seemed to have everything well in line, even to the point of realizing that Jesus is the Son of God, and received very high praise and was rewarded for that realization. This week, however, he’s not doing so well. In the Gospel reading today, which occurs right after last week’s Gospel, Peter gets called Satan and rebuked by Our Lord.

What Peter didn’t realize is that Our Lord’s death is not something that he could will away. Peter thought that he and the other disciples could protect Jesus from anyone who would harm Him, but he didn’t realize that Our Lord’s mission was to sacrifice Himself for our sins. Peter also didn’t realize that by sacrificing Himself, Jesus is showing us what we need to be willing to do to follow him.

For those of us who are Christians and take our faith seriously, it’s not enough to merely say, “I’m a Christian.” It’s not enough to believe in God and Jesus. It’s really not even enough to come to Mass on a regular basis, as important as that is. To be a disciple of the Lord means having a willingness to give ourselves over to Him completely, even if giving ourselves to Him includes having to give up our lives on Earth to serve His will. The self-sacrifice that is required to truly follow Jesus may not be this extreme, but we should let nothing get between us and Him.

This doesn’t make sense to those who are steeped in the world. For those who follow what the world teaches, sacrificing everything we have – our possessions, our plans for our lives, and even our earthly lives themselves – is completely incomprehensible. As Christians, we are called to give up much that the world sees as good, and focus our attention on God’s will.
This sacrifice of the things of the world may not mean that we have to give away everything we own. We may even have many possessions, such as nicely furnished house and decent car, and make a good income, but we cannot allow those possessions and things of the world get between us and God. If we are willing to turn our lives over to God’s providence and not allow the world distract us, we will receive our rewards in the life to come.

At the same time, we cannot be distant from the problems of the world. We must discern not only what God wills for our lives individually, but also what God’s will is for all humanity. It’s often hard enough to hear what God is saying to each of us in the silence of our hearts, but it can far more difficult breaking through the noise of the world in order to hear His plan for all creation. We must continually make the effort to discern His will for creation, and work to bring that will to fruition. We must not allow the world to dictate to us, but must allow God’s will to work through us to dictate to the world.

Unfortunately, I probably sound a bit like a broken record in some of these homilies, repeating the necessity for uniting our wills to God’s will and approaching Him with humility. Sadly, we live in a world where those who are willing to follow God’s will are ridiculed and insulted, much as Jeremiah describes in the first reading.

It is not an easy task to run counter to the prevailing culture. While this country may have Christian roots, many of the messages of the culture that surround us are based in a non-Christian view of humanity. Sometimes the culture we live in can even be anti-Christian. It is in this culture that we seek to understand God’s will, and to follow Jesus.

How do we hear God’s will? First and foremost, we must approach Our Lord with humility, asking for the graces to follow the Father’s will. Through regular prayer, especially popular devotions like the Rosary, we will grow closer to God and learn to hear Him speaking to us.

Secondly, we must devote ourselves to finding opportunities to study about God and become more familiar with Him. We must seek to understand the Scriptures more closely, for it is God’s revealed word. Likewise, we must find good spiritual and theological reading which will help us to understand what God is saying to us today.

As we seek to hear and follow the Father’s will, may we be willing to sacrifice everything in order to follow Him.

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary time

You might have had someone say to you, “You Catholics, why do you follow the Pope? Just read the Bible, it’ll tell you everything you need to know.” You may have even heard it on the radio or TV, or read it in a pamphlet or book. You may have also had a fellow Catholic say, “Why would I want to follow the Pope? He’s old and out of touch with the real world. We need to make the Church relevant. He can’t do that.” As the Gospel reading today shows, however, we cannot afford to be so dismissive of the Pope, but need to follow him and his teachings.

Why is the Pope so important? We’re all very aware of the popularity of the Pope, especially as shown in his recent visit to New York City and Washington DC, and in the World Youth Day celebration in Sydney, Australia, but why are Catholics, young and old, flocking from around the world just to get a glimpse of the 81 year old German theologian? These are the questions frequently being asked by the news media throughout the world. When looking at the Papacy from a secular mindset, especially when looking at the present office holder, the consistent popularity makes no sense. He’s not flashy, he’s not risqué, he’s not even very good with feel-good, sound bite speaking. It’s hard to understand from a secular mindset why the Papacy continues to be an important aspect in Catholic life.

From the viewpoint of Catholics, however, the importance of the Pope stands out in today’s Gospel. Jesus wasn’t merely content with developing a community of believers who would go out and spread his Gospel message. Instead, Our Lord wanted to establish a Church, a structure that would be the Body of Christ. At the head of this Church, Our Lord placed one of his apostles, Simon bar Jonah, a simple fisherman, to lead in his place. While Jesus is the head of the Church, Simon, now known as Cephas – known in English as Peter, but more accurately translated as Rock – became Our Lord’s earthly representative. This representative was promised that he, as the Rock, would be the foundation for Our Lord’s Church upon earth. In return, Peter would receive the power to bind and loose, and would inherit the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

To this day, Peter is frequently depicted holding a pair of keys, so what is the big deal about the keys, and binding and loosing? As we see in the first reading, this is a symbolism that goes deep into the history of the Jewish people. Within the Kingdom of Israel, there was a position frequently known as the steward, translated in today’s reading as the “master of the palace”. Part of his job was to ensure that the palace would be safe from attacks by controlling who could enter or leave, as he had the keys that could lock or unlock the palace gates. He also had the authority, granted to him by the King of Israel, the control the daily affairs within the palace, freeing the king to focus on the larger affairs of the nation. This was obviously a very important role, which also brought great responsibility and authority.

With Peter and his successors, the Popes, the keys symbolize the authority given to the Papacy by Our Lord. The Pope is not merely a figurehead, but has the authority and responsibility to speak to the world on behalf of Our Lord. Now, this doesn’t mean that everything that the Pope says comes directly from God. For example if the Pope decided to speak about his preference in music – Classical, if you’re curious – he would be merely describing his opinion. When speaking about matters of faith and morals, however, the Pope is exercising his authority to speak as the representative of Christ. This is what it means for the Pope to be speaking infallibly, which means without error, and obligates us to submit to the teaching of the Pope. By this speaking authority, the Pope is able to bind and loose the faithful, leading and teaching us as Our Lord wishes.

As Catholics, we are to hold the Papacy in high regard. Not all Popes were totally above reproach morally, but all Popes follow in the position of St. Peter, to lead and guide the Church. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may Pope Benedict XVI and his successors continue to guide the Church until Our Lord returns again.

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

What a strange response by Jesus to this Canaanite woman who comes to him in need. First, he ignores her pleas to heal her daughter, then calls her a dog. After being insulted in such a way, I think most of us would become upset and leave quickly. The woman, however, perseveres, convincing Our Lord to heal her daughter.

Why did Jesus respond in this way? Was he being anti-pagan, as the Canaanites followed a pagan religion, or was he being racist, attacking this woman because she was part of a different ethnicity or heritage? I would say “No” on both accounts. Instead, Our Lord had at least two reasons, probably more, for his response. First, even though his call to salvation is for the whole world, Our Lord focused his earthly ministry on the Jewish people. Second, He used this event to test the woman’s faith in Him, to see if she would persevere in her pleas for healing.

To understand the first reason for Our Lord’s response, it’s important to repeat that Our Lord’s call for salvation is to the whole world. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not merely for the Jewish people, or for those who followed him when he lived on earth, but was for all peoples at all times. The Prophet Isaiah, writing about 700 years before the life of Jesus, predicted in the first reading we heard that God would open His salvation to all, stating that “[God’s] house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The people Isaiah calls “foreigners” are all those who were not of Israelite descent, and were not permitted to join in the temple worship which was reserved only to the Israelite people.

St. Paul, in the second reading we heard, obviously thinks that Isaiah was right, and believes that Jesus’ death and resurrection opened the doors to the Gentile people, another term for Isaiah’s “foreigners”. St. Paul believed this so strongly that he dedicated his ministry to the Gentile people. He spent much of his life as a Christian ministering and preaching to those who were not Jewish, with the great majority of his time spent in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey. While there were some Jews in this area at the time, they were a small minority compared to the other religions that were prevalent.

While St. Paul shows us that the Gospel of Christ is open to all peoples, Our Lord Himself chose to focus primarily on the Jewish people, who were the chosen people of God. God the Father chose the Israelite people, of which the Jews were the remnant after several periods of being conquered and dispersed, long before Our Lord came to earth. Because God is faithful to his covenant, as St. Paul reminds us when he says, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable,” Our Lord proclaimed His Gospel primarily to the Jewish people before the Apostles were allowed to spread the Gospel to the rest of the world. Even today, God is still faithful to His covenant with the Jewish people, but like the rest of us, their salvation comes through the Cross of Christ.

Our Lord spent most of his ministry with the Jewish people, but today’s Gospel shows us one of the few exceptions that he made. This brings us to the second reason for Jesus’ response, to test the faith of the woman. We know that if we ask for what we need in faith, God will answer us, but only if we approach Him in the right way. If we ask for things from God as if He was a divine delivery service, simply put in your order and it shows up a couple of days later, we would be approaching the Father in a prideful manner, expecting Him to do something that we’re unwilling to do. As the woman shows us in the Gospel, we need to approach Our Lord with perseverance and humility, begging Him humbly to come to our aid.

This is how the woman responded to Our Lord, willing to lower herself to the level of a dog sitting below a table receiving the scraps from the meal. While a dog might eat well begging for scraps, depending on who was at the meal, this is not how many of us would like to get what we need to survive. Yet, when approaching Our Lord in prayer, we need to humble ourselves and persevere in our requests. Through our perseverance, humility, faith, and trust, Our Lord will hear our prayer and give the answer we need. This answer may not always be what we expect, but we will still receive the answer with joy if we are truly humble.

May we be willing to approach Our Lord with true humility and love, and like the woman in the Gospel, trust Him and persevere in asking Him for our needs.

Homily for the Vigil of the Assumption

This evening, we gather to celebrate one of the great feasts of Our Lady, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. In this feast, we commemorate when the Blessed Virgin Mary, born without sin and unstained by sin, was assumed into Heaven. Her body, never touched by the corruption of death, was brought up to Heaven at the moment of her death by Our Lord, and was reunited with her soul in Heaven, where she reigns with God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This feast shows us what our eventual outcome will be at the end of time. After we die, our souls go to Heaven, and our bodies remain in the grave. At the end of time, a new Heaven and new Earth will be created. At that time, our bodies will be resurrected, and our souls will be reunited with our newly resurrected bodies. We will then be living in a new Earth, with Our Lord reigning as our king.

With this Heavenly imagery, the choice of readings today might seem a bit strange. Instead of talking about what Heaven will be like, the first reading shows us King David with the Ark of the Covenant. It becomes clear why this reading was chosen when we look at the readings for tomorrow, the actual feast day of the Assumption. The first reading for tomorrow’s Mass comes from the book of Revelation, and shows us an image of Heaven, in which the Ark of the Covenant is seen. After seeing the Ark of the Covenant, St. John says that he sees a woman clothed with the sun. Both the Ark of the Covenant and the woman clothed with the sun are images of Mary.

Why is Mary is seen as Ark of the New Covenant? To begin with, the Ark of the Covenant was the carrier of God’s covenant with the Israelite people. It contained a copy of the Mosaic Law, the laws of the covenant between God and the Israelites. It was the most holy object in Israel, because God resided with the Israelite people through this Ark. It was later lost when the region of Judah was conquered by the Babylonian empire approximately 600 years before Jesus’ birth.

Mary is seen as the Ark of the New Covenant because she held the second person of the Holy Trinity within herself. Our Lord Jesus Christ, was not merely another human, but fully human and fully divine. The Ark of the Covenant did not literally hold God within it, but Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, received the most unique privilege to carry God the Son within her womb for nine months.

In this evening’s Gospel, we hear the woman who calls out, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” Seemingly in contrast to the great honor that Mary received in bearing Our Lord, Jesus replies, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” This is not a denigration of Mary, as some groups of Christians hold, but a re-acclamation. She was blessed because she carried Jesus, but was blessed more so because she heard God’s word and responded to it.

As followers of Jesus, we need to follow Mary’s example by listening to God’s word and responding to it with generosity and love. We need to hear Our Lord calling to us, and say in response, “Yes, Lord, I will follow.” Mary shows us through her life, through her example how we should follow Our Lord, how we should bring ourselves to Him. She gave herself completely to God, literally giving her body to care for Our Lord. She was willing to give everything she had, and was assumed body and soul into Heaven at the end as her reward.

Mary continues to follow Our Lord, and she leads us to him. When we pray to her, when we ask her to intercede on our behalf, through her actions, she is always pointing to Our Lord. We worship Jesus as the second person of the Trinity, but honor Mary very highly as his mother.

May we be willing to give of ourselves to God as completely as Mary did, so that one day we may join her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Heaven.

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We live in a world filled with noise. How many of us constantly have the radio or TV on at home? We get into our cars, and there’s the radio. We walk outside and hear the noise of vehicles, trains, other people. We’re surrounded, even bombarded, with noise constantly. This noise prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God speaking in our hearts.

Our Lord knew the importance of silence and solitude. After feeding the five thousand, which we heard last week, Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him in a boat so that he could have some time to pray in private. These times of prayer are what fueled Our Lord’s ministry, kept him going, regardless of the demands that were placed upon him. He also made prayer a priority before any major decision or event. This time, Our Lord used the opportunity for prayer to grieve over the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus knew that he could take all his concerns to the Father in prayer, and that he would receive the grace to continue in his earthly ministry.

We need to follow Our Lord’s example. We need to bring our concerns, our challenges, our sorrows to the Father in prayer. When we make a major decision, we need to precede it with time of prayer, asking the Father to lead and guide us so that we may do his will. When we have difficulties in our lives, problems that we feel we can’t overcome, we need to bring those to prayer as well, trusting that God will provide the grace to face these challenges.

In our noisy culture, however, it is extremely difficult to bring ourselves to prayer. Because of the constant noise in the world today, it is difficult to silence ourselves and prepare ourselves to be open to God and listen to His response. While it may be difficult to enter into silence, it is all the more important, as the first reading today shows.

When Elijah, long considered Israel’s greatest prophet, reached Mount Horeb, he sought to speak with God. I think when many of us picture God speaking, we imagine something like the movie “The Ten Commandments.” We imagine that God has a deep, booming voice that shakes the rocks and causes earthquakes. When speaking with Elijah, however, God doesn’t speak that way. He doesn’t speak in a great wind, or an earthquake, or even in fire, but in a tiny whispering sound.

This is how God the Father speaks to us today. He doesn’t yell at us, he doesn’t force us to hear him. Instead, he whispers to us. He speaks softly in our hearts, inviting us to enter into silence and prayer so that we can hear his voice. God does answer our prayers, he does speak to us, but he does it so softly that the noise of the world can easily drown it out.

This is why we must allow for periods of silence in our lives. Every day, we must take time to turn off the TV or radio, get away from the noise of the world and listen to God. We need to spend time in prayer, bringing the challenges of our lives, the struggles we’re facing, the sorrows and joys of daily life to God. We also need to spend time silently waiting for an answer. It may not come right away, and it may not even be during times of prayer, but we need to have the periods of silence to open our hearts to God, and prepare them to follow his will.

How do we find this time for silence? It’s often very difficult to do, but is so important for our spiritual well-being. One option is to schedule time during the day to spend in a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament. The church is always open throughout the day, so anyone can stop in and spend time before Our Lord in the Tabernacle. I realize that it is often impossible to actually spend an hour in adoration, but I wouldn’t be discouraged if you can’t do one hour. Even if you only can spend fifteen minutes in front of Our Lord in silent prayer, the graces that we receive from simply stopping by are immeasurable. Our Lord is here in the church, waiting for us to spend time with him. May we have the faith to spend time with Our Lord in silence.