Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Tu Es Petrus-
Pasce Agnos Meos[1]

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
13th of May, 2011

Parish of Saints Peter and Paul
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him: Yea Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him; Feed my lambs. [2]

            How many of you know someone who has left the Church? I’m pretty sure everyone here has an uncle, brother, sister, daughter, father, or friend whose shadow hasn’t darkened the doorway of a Catholic Church in perhaps decades. Maybe you yourself have been away for awhile. If so, welcome home. Many people leave the Church for various reasons. About a year ago, the Pew Foundation came out with a study about the religious experience of Americans. The largest group in America was Catholics. The second largest group in American were people who identified themselves as former Catholics. That’s just how awesome Catholics are. We’re number one and two. In all seriousness though, it is a point of concern. What does it mean to be Catholic? What is our faith? It is first and foremost a response to the one who calls us.
            When I was Protestant, the first mass I attended was the first Sunday of Advent in December of 2001. The winter of 2002 began the Long Lent of 2002, where the Church in the United States was rocked by the scandals of priests who had failed to live up to what Christ had called them to be. I remember as I looked at the faith though, the more it intrigued me. And I had friends and family who asked me, “Michael, how can you think of joining a faith that has such great problems? How can you join when so many of its leaders have failed?” But my reaction was that there was something greater to the Catholic faith than the failures of individuals. There was something beyond the path perdition chosen by certain individuals. This faith was bigger than just the mere mortality of some within our time. There was something ancient to this faith, a vibrancy which pulsed beneath it, a vitality that sustained it. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, I stood by the roads, and looked, and asked for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walked in it, and found rest for my soul.[3] You see, when I was a child, my mother and father had planted within my heart the seed of faith. They had passed onto me the message of this man called Jesus, the one of whom it was said was God. The God who had become man, walked our walk, lived our life, died our death and rose again so that we might have life and have it abundantly.[4] And as I looked at the Catholic faith, I saw the one in whom I had believed. Saint Paul, in his second letter to Timothy writes, I know in whom I have believed.[5] In this faith I recognized the one who had called me by name. Let me explain.
            One of the great calls of the Protestant faith is that we have to return to the early Church, to the Church of the Apostles, Peter, Paul, James and John. And so, I began to read the scriptures looking for this early Church. But as I looked at the Catholic Church, the books I was reading were pointing me to passages I had not considered. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he writes about the conditions for a man to be a bishop or deacon.[6] I looked around my church at the time, and I did not see any bishops or deacons. In the James 5.14 it is written, Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders, [the priests] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.[7] I looked around, and I didn’t see us anointing anyone with any oil. And speaking of priests, James goes on to write in 5.16 Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you might be saved and in John 20.22-23, Jesus breathes on [the Apostles] and said to them; “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Well, I didn’t see any priests in my church, and I sure didn’t see any confession of sins for the sake of salvation.
            Yet the passages that struck me to the core of who I was, to the very marrow of my being, were the one’s concerning the Eucharist. They are found in John’s gospel, Jesus said to them “Truly, Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.[8] Or in Matthew 26.26-28 where Jesus took the bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Or how Saint Paul in I Corinthians 11.23 says I received from the Lord what I delivered to you, and then Paul repeats the same words the Christ Himself spoke concluding, whoever therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.[9] That’s when I realized that in this bread and wine, given by Christ Jesus Himself to the Apostles, who handed it on to their successors the bishops, was Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. I realized that if the point of being a Christian was to be with Christ, and the Eucharist was Christ, and the Catholic Church had the Eucharist, then I needed to be Catholic.
            You see, the Catholic Church is the Church of the Apostles founded by Christ upon the rock of Peter. If you want a bible Church, it’s here! Look around and see the bishops, priests and deacons mentioned by Peter and Paul. See the anointing of the sick and the confession of sins mentioned by James. See ordination by the laying on of hands mentioned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.[10] See the Body and Blood mentioned by John. The bible is our book; it cannot be used against us. The Sacred Scriptures only have their meaning within the Church and the Church possesses her authority from what is revealed in through the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit.[11] It is as Saint Peter says, First of all you must understand this, that no prophesy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophesy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.[12] The Church fathers gathered these texts into what we call the bible,[13] because they saw within these words of God the Word of God Incarnate Himself, and saw the Crucified One in whom they had adored in the breaking of the bread.[14] They knew in whom they had believed.
            So why do people leave the faith? Because we have lost our passion for this faith. We lack the enthusiasm, the fire, the fervor to share what we have received. How many of you wake up on a Sunday morning, or a Saturday and say, “what do you have to do today? Well, I have to pick up some groceries for dinner. Little Timmy has a soccer game, I have to pick up the dry cleaning, go stand in the presence of God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and then maybe we’ll go get some ice cream.” My brothers and sisters, which one of these is not like the other? And yet we treat it so cavalierly.
It’s not that those Christians who do not have the Eucharist are bad people. That is absurd. You know them and you know that many of them have a vibrant faith. They have a faith which burns brightly and sustains them through life. Yet the Church has what they want. Every Christian wants to be drawn near to the heart of Christ Jesus, and we Catholics have Jesus here with us. Why don’t we tell people about this? Either we don’t believe that Jesus is truly present, and thus we have been deceiving ourselves, or we do believe that the Eucharist is Christ and are so selfish that we don’t want anyone to know. Which is it? Are we liars or are we selfish? Jesus held that He would remain with us for all time, even until the end of the ages. Because Jesus deemed it good and holy that His flock be fed with His body and blood, He allows the bishops in union with successor of Peter to continue this greatest act of charity in the Eucharist.
This brings me to today’s gospel. You see, these teachings that we have been given, are intact because Jesus gave us shepherds by which to guide us. In today’s gospel, Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. As the Father knows me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.[15] Jesus came to gather the lost sheep of Israel, to be their pastor of all who would believe.[16] Yet Jesus also promised to remain with us. This He did through the Prophets, fulfilling what had been written in Jeremiah, I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.[17] For this reason did Jesus tell Peter three times, to feed my sheep [18] even to the point of laying down his own life.[19] Peter is the rock of the Church. It was Peter who proclaimed the identity of Jesus, saying You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.[20] It was Peter who affirmed the truth of the Eucharist when other disciples were leaving, for he said, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.[21]
Because of this Jesus answered, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.[22] Jesus promised to be the good Shepherd to His Church for all times, feeding them even until the end of the age.[23] He, the great shepherd of the sheep,[24] entrusted to the Apostles and their successors the ministry of shepherding God’s flock.[25] Of the Apostles, Peter especially was given pride of place. Peter was to be the one around whom the apostles were strengthened. Jesus said as much when on the eve of His own Passion, He told Peter, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.[26] Peter is the sign of unity which ensures that the faith as given to the Apostles is handed down without corruption.[27] It was Peter who first entered the empty tomb,[28] Peter who spoke for the Apostles to the crowds on Pentecost,[29] and Peter who opened the gospel up to the Gentiles.[30] Peter knew whom he had believed. Peter affirms our faith, and his successors affirm our unity in that faith. For 2,000 years our faith has not changed. The sacraments of Christ celebrated by Peter and Paul, James and John and all the apostles are still celebrated today. Empires have come and gone. Caesar is gone. Charlemagne is gone. Napoleon is gone. Hitler is gone. But the successor to a humble fisherman still stands firm. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. So either Christ was being honest and the Church He established still stands firm, or Jesus is a liar. We know that Christ cannot lie. With this firm assurance, let us gather around our Shepherd in Rome and with one united voice, proclaim the faith handed on to all the saints once and for all. [31]

[1] Cf. Matthew 16.16-19 and John 21.15-19
[2] John 21.15
[3] Cf. Jeremiah 6.16
[4] John 10.10
[5] II Timothy 1.12
[6] Cf. I Timothy 3
[7] The Greek reads πρεσβυτερους, in the Vulgate, presbyteros, which means “elder” and where the order of priesthood gets its name, the Presbyterate.
[8] John 6.53-54
[9] I Corinthians 11.27
[10] Cf. Acts 6.1-6
[11] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §80: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” [II Vatican Council. Dei Verbum §9] Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own, always, to the close of the age [Mt. 28.20].
[12] II Peter 1.20-21
[13] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §81: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” [II Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, §9] “and Holy Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the Apostles, so that, enlightened by the Spirit of Truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” [Ibid.]
[14] Cf. Luke 24.35 and Acts 2.42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
[15] John 1.14-15
[16] Cf. Ezekiel 34.11: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I , I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.”
[17] Jeremiah 3.15; SEE ALSO Malachi 2.7: For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.
[18] Cf. John 21.15-17
[19] Cf. John 21.18-19
[20] Matthew 16.16
[21] John 6.68-69
[22] Matthew 16.17-19
[23] Matthew 28.20
[24] Hebrews 13.20
[25] Cf. John 21.15ff; I Peter 5.2
[26] Luke 22.31
[27] II Vatican Council, Lumen gentium §18: “This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the I Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, in the eternal Shepherd, established His Holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father [John 20.21]; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion [Cf. I Vatican, Pastor Auternus §3050]. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning the bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ [Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis and I Vatican], the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.” SEE ALSO Dominus Iesus, §16
[28] Cf. John 20.1-4
[29] Acts 2.14ff
[30] Acts 10.1-48
[31] Cf. Jude 1.3: Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was for all delivered to the saints.

Homily for Mother's Day

Ecce Mater Tua

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter
(Mother’s Day)
8th of May, 2011

Parish of Saints Peter and Paul
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

Who shall find a valiant woman? Far, and from the uttermost coasts is the value of her…Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she shall laugh late in the day. She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue. She hath looked well on the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle. Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her.[1]

            Mothers are amazing. I do not need to tell you that, you probably already know that. That being said, it is worth remembering, and today, across the country, people (hopefully) are taking the time to call their mother’s and wish them a Happy Mother’s day. We all know that the bond between a mother and her children is strong, just from our experience. However, science is beginning to reveal just how deep that bond goes. Science shows that a mother carries the DNA of every child she has carried for the rest of her life. That child remains a part of every mother forever. Furthermore, when a mother nurses her child, the pheromones given off between woman and child create an invisible chemical bond, which allows a mother to realize when her child is near even if she cannot see or hear them. Finally, as many of you know, mothers are psychic and develop eyes in the back of their heads. It’s true. Scientific fact.
            In all seriousness though, motherhood is one of the great gifts of this life. Mothers literally give of their flesh and blood so that they might bring new life into this world.[2] The ability to bring children into this world is a sacred act. In Genesis, we hear that man and woman were created as the image of God.[3] God then commanded that they increase and multiply.[4] We as human beings have the potential to create the image of God, to create a life which mirrors the Divine Creator of all life. How amazing is this reality? Is it any wonder then that when we look at a new born baby, we are filled with joy and happiness? “Human life is sacred-all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.” [5] God created purely out of love, and thus, our ability to create is only fully realized when it is done out of love. “Married love [6] particularly reveals its true nature and nobility from God, who is love, [7] the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” [8]  
            That is one of the greatest things of marriage is this gift of love, literally a giving of love. Marriage goes beyond just the ability to live together in the same space for a prolonged period of time. The sacrament of marriage imparts a grace which unites a man and woman together. Notice the words of Christ Jesus, for this reason shall a man leave father and mother, and shall join his wife, and the two shall be one in flesh.[9] Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man tear asunder.[10] What greater sign of this unity exists than children, who share equally of both father and mother, united and inseparable as one person? Mothers are given the sacred task of caring for children, signs of God’s blessing, and care for them. For a man, can there be a greater statement of love than to say, “I love you so much, that I want you to be the mother of my children?” A man who says that is not just saying, “I love you for the moment” or “I love you, but apart from that, I’m not sure.” A man who desires to have children is saying “I am here for the long haul. I love not only you, but I want to create a family with you.”  A husband who seeks children is giving himself entirely to the marriage. He holds nothing back.
            Consider the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and delivered Himself up for it…So also ought men love their wives as they their own bodies…For this reason shall a man leave his father and mother: and he shall join to his wife. And they shall be two as one flesh.[11] Christ gave Himself up entirely for the sake of His Church, which is His bride. He gave everything, body, blood and spirit[12] so that there might be new life. Likewise, a husband is called to give nothing less than every fiber his being to his marriage. It is in this very act that a man proves himself a man. “Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood.” [13] And yet, so very often, this is not the case. Children are no longer seen as blessings from the Lord. The very thing that women are able to offer so completely to is devalued, seen as an inconvenience or worse, something to be gotten rid of.
            In our culture, we shun marriage and we shun children. How many people do you know who are living together before marriage? How many people do you know who are married but are avoiding having children? Why do we do this? What are we actually communicating when we do that? Men, listen to this. If I am living with my girlfriend, am I not actually saying, “I love you now. But I might not love you later.” Or if I am married, but not wanting children, is this not the same as saying, “well, I love you, but I’m not sure if I’d love you with others around.” “I love you, but if things change, I might not love you.” [14]And so the very gift that is motherhood becomes devalued. Children are the surest sign that I love you no matter how much things change. That I accept everything that happens in life with my wife, because she is the mother of my children, they who literally are flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. Yet this is not what happens. Women become afraid that if they get pregnant, they won’t be attractive to their husbands. Wives are afraid that if they are not able to work, they won’t be seen as valuable to either their husbands or to society. How many of you have ever felt pressure to be both super career woman and super mom? For some reason, we seem to think that raising children is not enough. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a mother chasing after two toddlers, wiping spit up from an infant and baking cup cakes for the oldest kid’s kindergarten class and thought, “it’s a shame she isn’t doing more with her life.” I mean, do we really believe that raising children is any easier than any career we could have?
            Now, I am not saying that women shouldn’t work. I’m not saying that women have nothing to contribute to society.[15] So often when the virtue of motherhood is given praise, it is then twisted by some to imply a negative, that women are only capable of being mothers. This is not true. What I am saying is that being a mother is so spectacularly amazing a vocation that if a woman did nothing else in her life but raise her children to be holy, than it would be enough to have her be a canonized saint.[16] Motherhood is so great a gift, that it should be highly prized and honored as such. “Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it develops in the woman’s womb. The mother is filled with wonder at this mystery of life, and understands with unique intuition what is happening inside her. In the light of the “beginning”, the mother accepts and loves as a person the child she is carrying in her womb. This unique contact with the new human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings-not only towards her own child, but every human being- which profoundly marks the woman’s personality.” [17]
            I would be remiss if I did not mention the most famous mother of all time, Mary, the Mother of God.[18] While there is much that can be said about our Blessed Mother, there is one aspect in particular that I would like to focus on. When I was Protestant one of the biggest obstacles to my becoming Catholic were Marian devotions. I couldn’t understand them. Finally, one of my Catholic friends asked me, “does anything the Church actually teaches about Mary take away from Christ?” To which I had to respond, “no, no it doesn’t.” “Then don’t worry about it. You’ll understand her when she’s ready for you to understand her.” That moment of understanding didn’t occur until I was in seminary. It was the vigil before the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, and I was sitting in our chapel during the Eucharistic Adoration the seminary holds during this solemnity. All of a sudden it hit. My mother had died when I was seventeen, years before I even thought about becoming Catholic. She died on December 7th. That night in the chapel, it occurred to me that God, knowing the pain that my mother’s death would cause me, gave me the feast of His mother’s conception, literally, the words given to His apostle at the foot of the cross, Behold, your mother.[19] If Mary gave Jesus His human nature, and we share in His body and blood, then we are every bit as much Mary’s children as we are our own mother’s. This is a critical aspect of Mary’s place in our faith.
Now I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life. But, when I was kid, I’d still bring my drawings of squiggles home. I’d show my dad when he got home. Now, my dad would look at them and say “oh, that’s nice,” and then go back to watching the news. But if I showed them to my mom first, then when I showed my dad, my mom would be like, “James, look what Michael did. Isn’t it great.” That was my dad’s clue that this was something he needed to pay attention to. It is the same with our Blessed Mother. She takes our prayers, misshapen, malformed and small as they are and takes them to her son and says, “look Son. Look what your brothers and sisters did. Isn’t it wonderful?” And, like a good son, Jesus always honors His mother [20] and gives heed to her requests.[21] To all you moms out there, thank you for that you’ve done, God bless you, and happy mother’s day.

[1] Proverbs 31.10, 25-28
[2] Blessed Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §18: “Motherhood is the fruit of the marriage union of a man and woman, of that biblical “knowledge” which corresponds to the union of the two in one flesh (cf. Gen 2.24). This brings about-on the woman’s part- a special gift of self, an expression of that spousal love whereby the two are united to each other so closely that they become “one flesh.”
[3] Cf. Genesis 1.27: And God created man to his own image: to the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.
[4] Genesis 1.28
[5] Blessed Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra and Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae §13
[6] Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, §8
[7] I John 4.8
[8] Ephesians 3.15
[9] Cf. Ephesians 5.31
[10] Matthew 19.6-7
[11] Ephesians 5.25, 28, 31
[12] Cf. I John 5.6
[13] Blessed John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §25
[14] Cf. Blessed Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §14: “The man was also entrusted by the Creator to the woman- they were entrusted to each other as persons made in the image and likeness of God himself. This entrusting is the test of love, spousal love. In order to become a “sincere gift” to one another, each of them has to feel responsible for the gift.”
[15] Blessed Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §23: “While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions, society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family.”
[16] Cf. I Timothy 2.15: Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety.
[17] Blessed Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §18
[18] Blessed Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, §19: “Motherhood has been introduced into the order of the Covenant that God made with humanity in Jesus Christ. Each and every time that motherhood is repeated in human history, it is always related to the covenant which God made with the human race through the motherhood of the Mother of God.”
[19] John 19.27
[20] Cf. Exodus 20.12, Deuteronomy 5.16, Ephesians 6.2-3
[21] Proverbs 6.20: My son, keep the commandments of thy Father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.