Sunday, August 7, 2011

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Nolite Timere[1]

Homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordered Time
7th of August, 2011 Ano Domini

Parish of Corpus Christi
Round Lake, NY
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

And Peter, giving answer, said; “Lord, if it be you, bid me come to you upon the waters. And Jesus said: “Come.” And Peter going down out of the boat walked upon the water to come to Jesus. But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: “Lord save me!” And immediately Jesus, stretching forth his hand, took hold of him, and said, “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” [2]

            How many of you like roller coasters? Haunted houses? A good horror film? It seems that there is never a shortage of people in line to be scared. Being scared can even be fun, as mentioned in the things above. They get the blood flowing, reminds us that we’re alive. Yet how many of you have actually been terrified? Where you feared for your life? Where you didn’t know if you had the means to make it another day? This is true fear. This is a fear which grips the soul and drains one’s heart of courage. Yet is precisely this form of fear we find in today’s gospel, and to this fear Jesus tells His apostles in the midst of the storm, be not afraid.[3] The apostles are in the midst of a storm, and they are afraid, because they have forgotten that Jesus Christ is with them. They have forgotten the source of their strength. How often do we, like Peter, become overwhelmed by the storms of our lives, and forget that Jesus is right before us?
This was one of the great cornerstones of Blessed John Paul II’s preaching as he traveled around the world, “be not afraid.” For a man who had seen the worst that human beings could to one another, a world that had reached the highest heights of violence stemming from fear, John told the war to be not afraid. In truth, there are only two reasons for authentic fear; death and poverty. To both reasons, the Christian faith provides solace and courage.
In today’ world we are petrified of death. Everyday a new report comes out which warns of us of some toxin, faulty manufactured product or other various sundry objects that are bent on our destruction. Cell phones could cause Alzheimer. Fast food restaurants fries will immediately give you a heart attack. And apparently, everything will give you cancer. So we live in fear. Yet for the Christian, we have been given the assurance that death is not the end. Does not our faith tell us that Jesus has conquered death? Does not Jesus tell us that He is the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live?[4] Has not God Himself told us that He has gone before us to prepare a place for us to live?[5] Why then should we fear death? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.[6] Do you believe this?[7] If this is our faith, then we need to show in our lives that we no longer fear death. The world needs to be able to look into the lives of the Christian faithful, and see that there is something there which they do not have. That Christians do not live in fear of death, but in the assurance of the world to come.
This leads me to the second reason for fear which is poverty. If you have been following the news lately, I am sure that you have heard about the debt crisis, the debt ceiling, credit rating downgrades and the stock market plummeting. Throughout the debate, we heard people on both sides of the aisle screaming about the catastrophe that was coming. Social security checks will cease! The military will be unable to defend us! The poor will starve and the sick will die! The debt will destroy our civilization! Everybody panic! In the past couple of months, these issues have taken up the consciousness of the nation. And people are afraid, and they are willing to do almost anything, just so that they don’t have to be afraid.
This life is full of uncertainty and it is full of dangers and threats around ever twist and turn of an increasingly chaotic world. This is the point which I would wish to speak of now. You see, in the past sixty years of American history, we have come to depend on the government, whether in our cities, our states, or federally, to give us that sense of security. Don’t worry about what you’ll do when you retire, you’ll have your pensions. Don’t worry about what you’ll do when you can no longer work, you’ll have social security. Don’t worry about health care, you’ll have Medicare and Medicaid. Don’t worry about what happens if you lose your job, you’ll have months of unemployment. Now, please here me when I say, these are good programs, even great programs. Yet I believe we are beginning to see that the current system can no longer sustain itself. Truly, no state is capable of providing everything we need, not without becoming dictatorial in its power.
There is an alternative however, one that stretches back to the beginning of our faith. Consider these words of Saint Paul to the Galatians. So then, while it is still today, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are the household of faith. [8] This is critical. Look around you and see family. Do you believe that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ? We form the household of faith, and as such, when one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.[9] Therefore, give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; for you have received without pay, therefore give without pay. [10] We need to rethink how we view our parish, and rethink what the words “Catholic Charity” mean to us. Too often, we think of giving to organizations, who, while doing great good, are so large that they have to spread their resources over a wide swath of peoples. Yet our parishes can and must be a source of charity for those brothers and sisters among us. We possess a great deal of abundance. Saint John Chrysostom commented, “not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” [11] If a family among us is hungry, than we have food which can be given. If a family needs shelter, we should be able, as a larger family, to find a way to provide them something. If a family needs financial advice, there are those among us who have such knowledge. We have construction workers, plumbers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers. What need can the poor have that we cannot offer assistance to? The difference that Catholic charity has between state programs is that Catholic charity is acts of kindness done in the context of family rather than an act of the wealthy to the poor. Catholic Charity is an act that maintains the dignity of all members.[12]
There is a profound difference between a handout and a family member helping out another family member. If I had a kid, and I cannot afford to clothe my child, how shameful it is for me to go to Goodwill, to admit that I cannot take care of my family. It hollows out the soul of a man, and leaves him without his God given dignity. Yet how many of you have had brothers and sisters, and when you had your kids, you asked if you could use the cloths that your nieces and nephews had outgrown? This is not considered a handout. This is family helping family, because you know that you’ll help your brothers and sisters out when they are in need, and they will help you. It’s what family does.
I remember when my mother was a single mother trying to provide for my brother and I. There were times when the money was so tight, she couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store. So she would go to the food co-ops where the government gave away surplus food for the poor. Maybe some of you remember the plain labels that identified this food, these labels that told anyone who walked through your kitchen that you couldn’t afford to buy food for your family. But I also remember that our Church at the time which held a pot luck supper every Wednesday evening. And my mother knew that even if she couldn’t bring much, she could bring something to that dinner. She knew that her sons would have a good meal, and that they would sit as equals among everyone there, from those who drove Mercedes and BMWs to those who were worse off than we. And there would be no shame, for all there, rich and poor, ate the same food, sat at the same table and lived as brothers and sisters, because we were Christians and that made us family. That common dinner was a great blessing. It’s possible here. We can do it. But you’ve got to want it.
I’ve seen parishes where over fifty volunteers organized themselves to cook meals for those families who had lost a family member or who had just lost their jobs. And because there were many, the burden was easy, the yoke was light. It’s possible. We can do it. But you’ve got to want it. I’ve seen churches in the south, which bought up land. And then when they heard that one of their members was homeless or were about to be evicted, they came together on a Saturday, and like Habitat for Humanity, they built those families a house to live in. It wasn’t much, just cinder blocks and dry wall. But it was a home, and it was from family. It’s possible, we can do it. But you’ve got to want it. I’ve seen parishes that offered free day care for those mothers who have to work. It’s possible, we can do it. But you’ve got to want it. My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, we need to stop expecting other people to take care of our family, this household of faith. We can look out for each other, so that none among us every feels isolated in poverty and need. Christian charity provides everyone dignity. It’s not another program. It’s not another committee. It’s an act of love. If we believe that we are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, then we must look out for one another as family. For indeed we are our brother’s keeper.[13]

[1] “Be not afraid” taken from Matthew 14.27 [Gospel of the Day]
[2] Matthew 14.28-31
[3] Matthew 14.27
[4] John 11.25
[5] Cf. John 14.1-6
[6] Romans 6.3-4
[7] Cf. John 11.26
[8] Galatians 6.10
[9] I Corinthians 12.26
[10] Matthew 5.42, 10.8, Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2443
[11] Saint John Chrysostom, Hom. In Lazaro 2,5, Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2446
[12] For additional information on Christian charity, read Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (1967), and Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (1991).
[13] Cf. Genesis 4.9

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Una Pretiosa Margarita.[1]

Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordered Time
24th of July, 2011 Ano Domini

Parish of Corpus Christi
Round Lake, NY
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all he had, and bought it. [2]

            How many of you believe in heaven? How many of you believe in hell? Hell seems to be the great stumbling block of our society today. Oh sure, there are some people that we are sure are going to hell. Hitler is in hell. Stalin is in hell. That guy who cut us off on our way to work is going to hell. These are all perfect candidates for hell bound hellions. But if we were to really get down to it, the concept of hell troubles us. And yet, there it is, right in today’s gospel. Jesus warns that the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.[3] How could a loving God do this? How could a good God send someone to hell? Do not the scriptures tell us that God is love?[4]
            I would say that it is precisely because God is love that hell is a possibility. This would seem to be a contradiction, but the truth of this reality speaks to the eloquence of what love truly is. One cannot force anyone to love. It must be freely given and freely received.[5] God loves us, but it is exactly because He hopes that we will love Him in return that He gives us free will.[6] Yet it is this free will which also allows the possibility and reality of sin. We were created in the image of God,[7] created to live with God for all eternity. Yet man has turned away from the Creator so that he might worship the creature. And this was and is a choice, a freely willed act to move away from God. And because man rejected God, who is the source of all life,[8] we found ourselves enslaved to the reign of death[9] through our own fault.[10] Now throughout salvation history, God has continually laid out the path of redemption, the chance to live with Him in glory. Our faith is about decision, about which path we will walk on. Did not Moses tell the Israelites, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your descendents may live? [11] Is it not written in Proverbs, My son, do not walk in the way [of the wicked], hold back your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil? [12] Does not the Prophet Jeremiah warn, Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the roads and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” But they said, “we will not walk in it.”? [13] Even Jesus advised His disciples to Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the path is easy which leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the path hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.[14]
            Now we see that we have a decision before us. The guiding principle of our life must be to find Jesus. Where He is, I want to be. In our life, everything is subject to change, and we are left to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.[15] If we seek money, we can find ourselves the lost in a market meltdown. If we seek love, we can find ourselves spurned. Yet if we seek Christ Jesus, we find our bedrock, for it is written that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.[16] Find Jesus. Where He is, I want to be. Every decisions we do then either gets us closer to Him or farther. Every sin turns us away from God, and towards ourselves. See again the decision is yours. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.[17]
However, for many, the choice of the Christian life seems too hard. It seems too difficult. Indeed, the world tells us, that we’re fine just the way we are, that we were born this way, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.[18] We just need to accept everyone the way they are. Now it would seem that this is a message of great mercy. But what are we actually saying when we say this? It is actually a message of greatest despair. When the world says, you’re fine just the way you are, what it’s really saying is don’t worry trying to be better, cause you can’t do it. When it says you were born this way, it’s really saying that you’ll never be any better than you are. When it says accept everyone as they are, it’s really saying you’ll always be chained to your failures and weaknesses. But that is not the Christian message. The Christian message is that I am not my failures, that my sins of yesterday will not be my sins of tomorrow, that with the grace of God almighty tomorrow’s rising sun will find be a better person than today’s setting sun left me.  Did not our second reading tell us this? Did not Paul write that those whom [Christ] predestined He also called; and those whom He called He also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified? [19] We cannot remain in sin, for Jesus has said, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.[20] But we know that we are freed from sin, as Saint Paul says, Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.[21]
So, we come to our decision again. Do we want the things of this world, the pleasures of this life, which are here today and gone tomorrow? Or do we want the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ? To do this, we must submit ourselves to the commandments of Christ, the teachings of the scriptures. You see, in sin, we find our will is weakened, and our intellect is darkened. So we find ourselves unable to find the right path on our own. Sometimes, the laws do not make sense to us. Yet we must be obedient to the will of the Father. Jesus shows us how to do this in His agony in the Garden.
Jesus says, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thy will be done.[22] Jesus, being fully divine, knew what He must suffer. Jesus, being fully human, did not want to die, for man was not meant for death, and all human beings recoil at the thought of their mortality. But Jesus also knew that He came to do the will of the Father.[23] He was willing to do the will of the Father, because the will of the Father was to glorify the Son[24] and that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.[25] And so in Christ’s obedience to the Father, the Son is glorified, and in His name we are saved.[26] For thus did the Apostle write, that Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God, something to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was found to be of human form, and thus He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father, that Jesus Christ is Lord.[27]
So let us be obedient. Let us put on the new nature, created after the [image and] likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.[28] Do not yield your bodies to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.[29] We must remember the high price that was paid for our salvation. For Peter wrote, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.[30] And now here is the great mystery of our faith.
We know that for us, Jesus is the pearl of great price, the great treasure which is worth selling all we have so that we might be close to Him. But have you ever stopped to consider that you are His pearl of great price. On the cross, Jesus gave up everything He had so that you might be saved from your sins. Jesus would rather die for you than live without you. You are His pearl of great price. You are the lost sheep that the Good Shepherd goes out into the cold of night to find.[31] You are the lost coin the owner turns their house inside out to find.[32] You are His pearl of great price. Turn to Him and He will run to you.[33] Reach out to Him and He will pull you out from the depths.[34] Call His name and He will proclaim your name to the highest heavens.[35] This is our call. This is our glory. This, our dignity. Christian, remember your dignity! [36]
Let us now cast off the chains of mediocrity which have dulled our faith. Let us spurn the tepidness with which our hearts have become enamored. Rather, let us stoke the embers within our soul, to have our faith be as a burning fire set upon the hill as a light to the world! [37] Let all you meet see the joy that is the life in Christ. Let all who know you see the freedom which is found in service to God. Let everyone know the source of our happiness. “You were baptized into His name; confess His name!” [38] For if we do not spread the source of joy to those around us, then for them who have lost this pearl of great price, this treasure of great worth, the agony of what has been lost will be for them an everlasting torment.[39]

[1] Matthew 13.46: “A Pearl of Great Price.” In this case, Margarita comes from the Greek Μαργαριτα (literally, the same word in Greek characters) which means pearl, rather than referencing an iced fruit cocktail containing tequila popular in North America. Oddly enough, the two are more associated than people realize. The drink was named after Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain who reigned from 1599 to 1611. The first cocktails made from local fruits with the Indian liquor now known as Tequila were named in her honor. Margaret as a name though comes from the same Margarita meaning pearl.
[2] Matthew 13.45-46 [From the Gospel Reading of the Day]
[3] Matthew 13.49-50
[4] I John 4.8
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1033: “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him.”
[6] Saint Ephrem [Doctor of the Church]. On Admonition and Repentance. §1: “Not of compulsion is the doctrine; of free will is the word of life. Whoso is willing to hear the doctrine, let him cleanse the field of his free-will that the good seed fall not among the thorns of vain inquiries. If you would heed the word of life, cut yourself off from evil things; the hearing of the word profits nothing to the man that is busied with sins. If you will to be good, love not dissolute customs. First of all, trust in God, and then hearken to His law.”
[7] Cf. Genesis 1.25-26
[8] Cf. Psalm 36.9
[9] Cf. Romans 5.14
[10] Cf. Psalm 51.4
[11] Deuteronomy 30.19
[12] Proverbs 1.15-16; SEE ALSO Proverbs 4.14 and Psalm 139 [138].23-24
[13] Jeremiah 6.16; SEE ALSO Isaiah 35.8
[14] Matthew 7.13-14
[15] Shakespeare. Hamlet. III.i
[16] Hebrews 13.8; Ephrem. On Admonition and Repentance, §19: “Take refuge in God who passes not away nor is changed. Restrain laughter by suffering, and mirthfulness by sorrow. Console suffering by hope, and sadness by expectation. Believe and trust, you that are wise, for God is He who guides you; and if His care leaves you not, there is nothing that can harm you.”
[17] Colossians 3.17; SEE ALSO I Corinthians 10.31
[18] Cf. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, Book IV, ch. 28: “For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41) these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity (Matthew 25:34), these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word.
[19] Romans 8.30; SEE Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1037: God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willing turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”
[20] John 8.34
[21] Romans 6.22
[22] Matthew 26.39
[23] Cf. John 4.34: Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work.”
[24] Cf. John 8.54: Jesus answer, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you that He is your God.
[25] John 6.40
[26] Cf. Acts 2.21: And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
[27] Philippians 2.6-11
[28] Ephesians 4.24
[29] Romans 6.13
[30] I Peter 1.19
[31] Cf. Matthew 18.12-14; Luke 15.3-7
[32] Luke 15.8-10
[33] Cf. James 4.8
[34] Cf. Matthew 14.28-30; Psalm 130
[35] Cf. Matthew 10.32
[36] Cf. Saint Pope Leo the Great, Sermo 21: De Nativitas Christi: “Christian, remember your dignity! Having become a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct.”
[37] Cf. Matthew 5.14-16
[38] Saint Ephrem, On Admonition and Repentance, §2
[39] Cf. Matthew 25.31-46; Catechism of the Catholic Church §1033: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’.”