The Exorcist

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 4B

Throughout the Gospel, one of the main things that we see Jesus doing is casting out demons and unclean spirits, performing exorcisms. “The Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus came to take back for God all that had fallen under the false dominion of the evil one. On TV from time to time, I’ve watched a lot of accounts of haunted houses. These are often based on eyewitness interviews. It’s always been fascinating to me that a great number of the families involved, whether Catholic, non-Catholic, or not very religious at all, many of these witnesses to the paranormal end up contacting Catholic priests. The Catholic Church continues the work of Jesus to cast out unclean spirits, to act with the same authority as Jesus Himself, and this is recognized, to some extent, even by those who are outside the Catholic Church.

Beyond the scribes or Bible-believing Christian ministers, Catholic priests have been given authority, passed down through the centuries by apostolic succession. Priests have authorization from Jesus Christ Himself, the One authorized by His heavenly Father. But many of us might not realize that even more powerful than any exorcism, and more truly dramatic, is actually something that we can experience on a regular basis: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Each priest, through his bishop or through the bishop of Rome, receives authority to absolve sins, to restore supernatural life to a soul that was dead in mortal sin. And in the Gospel, this is the other activity of Christ that the crowds found so astonishing, that Jesus, the Son of Man, claimed the authority to forgive sins.

And beyond any exorcism, the forgiveness of sins destroys “the works of the devil” and the false dominion of Satan. The first Letter of Saint John states, “Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning” (3:8). When we sin—in some sense—we surrender our freedom to the disobedience, to whatever lie and falsehood that we have bought into. And through our sin, we surrender to the father of lies, the devil. But when we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness through His priests, we reclaim our freedom in Christ, the freedom of the children of God. We renounce the false freedom that the world offers us, the false freedom that promises, that if we do whatever we want, we’ll be happy and find peace. Now I’ve always found in my own life and experience, that when I do whatever I want, I usually end up pretty miserable; tired, irritable, anxious, not very pleasant to be around.

In God’s will is our peace. When we finally surrender and do what God wants, when we do what He created us to do, we find life, joy, peace, and security. When we just do whatever we want, we find death, emptiness, pain without meaning or purpose, pleasure that never lasts. When we’re really honest with ourselves and look at how our life is going, how many of us can say that we’re truly happy? And if we’re not happy, what do we identify as the real cause of our unhappiness? Are we merely victims of circumstance, of our environment, of our social and behavioral conditioning? Are we merely victims of our own heredity or genetic predispositions? Are we victims of an unjust society, of prejudice, sexism, racism?

Or can someone who belongs to Christ actually find happiness and true freedom despite all of this? Are we still not convinced that it is our sin and our rebellion against God that lies at the root of all our sadness and misery? As we draw closer to the season of Lent, we should take some time to reflect: how is God calling me to root out sin in my life, to take concrete actions to actually break those habits of sin? In which areas of my life does the devil still have his strongholds? Where do I need Jesus to come in, to set me free from the lies, from the ignorance, from the weakness of my will and my lack of self-sacrifice? Come, Holy Spirit, cast out the darkness of our hearts. Help us to know our sins and to confess them, that we might receive the forgiveness, the healing, the freedom that Jesus offers us.

Introduction to the Devout Life

Bulletin Letter, Ordinary Time Sunday 4B

This past Wednesday, the Church commemorated one of my favorite Saints and a great champion of what is called the ‘universal call to holiness.’ Often, throughout history and in many places still today, there has been a false and un-Christian idea that holiness and heroic virtue, the call to become saints, is a special vocation for the very few.

We think to ourselves, “Well, maybe bishops and priests, or monks and religious sisters in monasteries, or hermits out away from other people, who have time to just pray all day, maybe they can actually become holy and patient and kind, maybe they can actually study God’s Word and live it out, but not me. I’m too busy, too involved in the things of this world, and I have to deal with too many other people for me to be patient. I don’t have time and I’m not smart enough to study or pray with Scripture. I can’t become a saint. I’m just too ordinary.”

But it is precisely in the ordinary, mundane circumstances of our daily lives that God wants to enter in with His grace and strength. It is precisely in dealing with the difficult and beautiful people around us, and the difficulties and weaknesses within ourselves, that God wants to develop and prove our patience and purity, as gold is tested through fire (Cf. 1 Peter 1:7). We should remember that Jesus Himself chose to become holy in His human nature especially through very ordinary means, by working with His hands at carpentry with St. Joseph, by living in obedience to Joseph and His Mother, by studying God’s Law and pondering and praying as He worked and as He rested, by interacting with His nosy neighbors in a small town.

St. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, gives very accessible and easy-to-read advice on how we can become saints in the midst of the world, how we can live for God and for heaven even as we work to improve our area of earth. “Just as the One who called you is holy, so be holy yourselves in all that you do” (1 Peter 1:15). God wants to transform every aspect of our lives, not just what we do for a brief time on Sundays. God wants to enter in to how we work, how we eat and drink, how we spend our free time, how we speak, and tweet, and snap our chats. And every day, every moment, every ordinary event can become an opportunity to grow in holiness and patience and communion with God, when we make our relationship with Him the priority it should be, no matter how busy we think we are.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!

Turning Back into the Way

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 3B

I may have already mentioned that I come from a fairly large family. I am the youngest of nine kids. And growing up in a large family, we definitely had our differences, but we share a lot of similarities as well. For example, all six of my brothers, when they went to college, earned degrees in engineering of one kind or another. In fact, three of the six all graduated with degrees in computer engineering. And of those three, two of my brothers work for the same company, Garmin, the big GPS designer and manufacturer. Now, I used to have a pretty lousy sense of direction, so I’ve benefited a lot from using GPS. Most of us probably even have it on our phones now. But there are times when a GPS can be rather annoying, especially the ones that talk, if you decide to take a quick detour—or if you have to, because of construction—you’ll hear that calming reassurance: “recalculating…recalculating…” or even—my personal favorite—“when possible, make a U-turn.” It all depends on the destination you’ve chosen. The GPS’s one and only mission is to direct you by the fastest or most direct route, and it doesn’t seem to like it when you deviate from the path. If we start going the wrong way, it lets us know.

Now before there was GPS, there were prophets. And a prophet’s one and only mission is to direct us toward God, toward freedom and life and heaven, and to warn us to turn around, to make a U-turn, if we’re headed for sin and death and destruction. This is what we hear from the Prophet Jonah in our first reading today, and this is what we hear from Jesus in the Gospel: “Repent!” Repent, which basically means, “Turn around, you’re going the wrong way. You’re headed for destruction. You need to change your direction.” Notice that as Jesus begins His public ministry, we do not hear Him saying, “Come as you are. You’re already on the right track.” No. He says, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

The message of the Gospel is one of continual conversion for us, time and time again recalculating and being turned back into the direction of God. Jesus came to save us. To save us from what? If all roads led to heaven anyway, why would we need a Savior? But Jesus Himself tells us, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus is the Way, and so He calls Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow Him. They leave their nets behind to become fishers of men, to call many others onto this narrow Way.

In our own lives, how much remains unrepented, unconverted? How many of us are still trying to make our own way, instead of following Christ? In our second reading, St. Paul reminds us to not get so caught up in the things of this passing world. Our life on earth is temporary. Don’t get too comfortable. “Time is running out,” he tells us. Let those who are weeping act as though they were not weeping, “those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.”

How often do we really think about heaven, what it will be like, and eternal life beyond this world? And how often do we lose sight of our destination, because we are preoccupied with temporary things, the billboards and distractions along the way? How many of our decisions about the direction of our lives, of our careers, our families, our relationships, our studies and education, our recreation, how many of these decisions have we made all on our own, without asking or listening for what God wants? If we’re not allowing Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church to really lead us and direct us, we are going the wrong way. Repent. Make a U-turn. It’s possible now. This is the time of fulfillment. Don’t be afraid and don’t hesitate any longer. When we respond to His call in our lives, Jesus takes nothing from us, of all that is truly good and beautiful. He only adds and enhances, with His own power and grace, all that is ours.

If we’re still striving and hoping for perfect peace and contentment in this world, we’re wasting our time and going the wrong way. Jesus assures us, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). We place our hope in God alone. May He guide all our steps, through every trial and tribulation, on the sure Way, the only Way of Jesus and His Cross, to our home in heaven.

Meet Christ Where He Is

Epiph

Homily, Epiphany

It was an ancient practice in the Church, after the Gospel on the Feast of the Epiphany, to solemnly announce the date of Easter and of the other moveable feasts, because these tend to occur on different dates each year. It’s a good reminder to us that as we mark our 2018 calendars and try to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and other important dates in the lives of our friends and relatives, it’s also good for us to look forward to the important dates that we observe together as God’s family, as we commemorate each year, and every Sunday, the mysteries of our salvation.

Because we celebrate this Feast of the Epiphany so soon after Christmas, we often forget that it probably took the Magi a full year or more, after the Birth of Jesus to arrive in Bethlehem. As we hear in the Gospel today, by this time the Holy Family had moved into a house in Bethlehem. A little after this, as St. Joseph takes the Child and His Mother into Egypt, King Herod slays the Holy Innocents, all male children found in the area of Bethlehem of two years and younger. So by the time the Magi actually reached Bethlehem, Jesus was already between one or two years old.

How does our faith measure up to the faith of the Magi? How many of us would ever be willing to make a similar journey, just to see Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews? To spend weeks in preparation and several months on the road, just to bring their gifts to a rather unimpressive royal Child, unrecognized and persecuted by His own people. How many of us are often unwilling to inconvenience ourselves in the slightest—when we’re traveling or on vacation, or just too tired or hungover—to actually make it to Mass on Sundays or holy days?

The King of kings may still look rather unimpressive, made present to us under the appearances of bread and wine. But the Magi didn’t wait. They didn’t wait for Jesus to come and meet them where they were at, in a distant country. The Magi took action. They went looking for Jesus, striving to give God the very best of themselves, and to bring tribute to the King of every mind and heart. How does our own faith compare? What are we willing to give, or give up, to more faithfully serve the King of kings, and to conform our lives to Him? How often would we rather that God instead conform Himself to our sinfulness? How long have we been waiting for God to offer us another way to heaven, rather than the narrow Way that He offers us in Christ His Son? There is no other way. There will be no other way than Jesus Christ. Stop waiting. Take action. What is it that are we not willing to give to the Child Jesus? And what excuses do we still make for ourselves?

Astronomical Honor to God

Reminder to Priests and Deacons, as Diocesan Master of Ceremonies

Hard to believe that we’ve begun another new year. And if memory still serves me well, the spring semester—with Lent and Easter and basketball and anticipation of graduation for many—tends to fly by even more quickly. Just the other day, we went through the next couple months of the calendar for us at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. Seems like Ash Wednesday is just around the corner, and we were even able to look ahead as far as the Chrism Mass on Thursday, March 15. You may even find yourself planning for your Easter liturgies soon.

Something that just came to my attention that I hadn’t thought a lot about before was the timing of certain Masses. One of the Christmas Masses in the Missal is the Mass at Dawn. I’d never considered much what ‘dawn’ really refers to, but as I looked it up, I discovered that it has a fairly precise meaning, referring to the morning twilight before sunrise. So on Christmas Day in Sioux Falls last year, a Mass at Dawn would have most appropriately started after first light at 7:25 am but before the 7:58 am sunrise. There’s a website timeanddate.com that has all this information for any date and location.

As we plan for the months ahead, there is one Liturgy with preeminent significance that has very specific instructions as to its timing. Of course, I have in mind the Easter Vigil. Paragraph 3 of the Vigil says, “The entire celebration of the Easter Vigil must take place during the night, so that it begins after nightfall and ends before daybreak on the Sunday” (The Roman Missal, Third Edition).

Why is this important? I think with the relative ease of using artificial light sources today, it becomes hard for us to imagine what night would have been like in ancient times and what real darkness would have meant to those who finally found the Light of Christ. The blessing of fire and praise of the Paschal candle lose a lot of their significance when there is little contrast, when they take place while it’s still light outside, even before sunset. How often do we cheat ourselves and the People of God out of the real significance of these beautiful Rites for the sake of convenience?

Through the cold and dark days of winter, may the Light of Christ at Epiphany, manifested to the nations, continue to guide us in all that we do, that Light that never fades, world without end. Amen.