15 April 2018

Homily - 15 April 2018 - The Third Sunday of Easter (B)

The Third Sunday of Easter (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we hear the Apostle Saint Peter proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ to the people of Jerusalem. “The author of life you put to death,” he said, “but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). In the discovery of the Lord’s burial clothes - but not of his body - and in the various encounters with the Risen Lord and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, something changed in Saint Peter. No longer was he a man who cared more for his safety than for his loyalty to his Master, nor was he any longer afraid of the crowds but instead proclaimed the truth of the Christian faith to them. Why? He changed because he finally gave his heart over to Jesus. I might say he gave his entire heart over to Jesus, but then I would be arguing with Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Saint Augustine noticed that when Jesus asked for something to eat, the Apostles gave him not a whole fish, but only “a piece of baked fish” (Luke 24:42). Being intrigued by these two details, the piece of cooked fish, he wanted to know why. He concluded that

They offered him what they had: a portion of grilled fish [various translations translate the manner of cooking differently]. Grilled fish means martyrdom, faith proved by fire. Why is it only a portion? Paul says, “If I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3). Imagine a complete body of martyrs. Some suffer because of love, while others suffer out of pride. Remove the pride portion, offer the love portion. That is the food for Christ. Give Christ his portion. Christ loves the martyrs who suffered out of love.[1]

When the Lord first predicted his Passion and Death, Saint Peter gave the portion of his pride to the Lord when he told him, “No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). The giving of his pride earned him a stern rebuke from the Lord: “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23)! In the end, however, Saint Peter gave the portion of his love to the Lord when he gave his life for the sake of his name. What portion have we given to the Lord?

Saint Anthony of Padua had a slightly different, though not unrelated, reading of the detail of the cooked fish. Recognizing that each of us is called to be as another Christ because we have been joined to him in Baptism, the Doctor of the Gospels said:

The “broiled fish” is the Redeemer who suffered, who was caught in the waters of the human race by the hook of death, and “broiled” at the time of his Passion; and he, too, is the honeycomb for us in today’s Resurrection. The honeycomb is in the wax, as the divinity is in the humanity. In this eating is signified that he takes them, in his body, to eternal rest, who, when they suffer trials for God’s sake, do not depart from the joy of eternal sweetness. Those who are “broiled” here, will there be satisfied with sweetness.[2]

The Lord Jesus takes in those who know him; he takes in those who keep his commandments and his word (cf. I John 2:3-5).

If we wish to “look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection,” we cannot be afraid to be “broiled” here; we cannot be afraid of “faith proved by fire.”[3] If we wish the Lord to let the light of his face shine on us and put gladness into our hearts for eternity, then, like Saint Peter, we must give the Lord the full portion of our love (cf. Psalm 4:7 and 8). What is more, we must not be afraid of raising our voices and proclaiming, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19).

The proclamation of the fullness of the Gospel today is repugnant to many members of our society. Many resist – or even oppose - his teachings on marriage, the dignity of all human life, care for the poor, and even the reality of the Sacraments. Because this is becoming increasingly so, we shy away from proclaiming the truth revealed by Jesus Christ and entrusted to his Church. Because of our pride, because of our concern for how others think of us, we do not proclaim the Resurrection of the Lord and do not give him the portion he desires.

Every Sunday and holy day, we recite together the Creed, the Profession of Faith. Just a few weeks ago at Easter, we renewed our baptismal promises by answering, “I do,” to the questions posed to us about our belief, questions taken directly from the Creed, from the faith of the Church, which comes down to us through Saint Peter and the Apostles. In doing so, we confessed before God and man that we believe in the Crucified and Risen Savior and in the means of salvation offered in the Church he established on the rock of Saint Peter. But what does it mean to believe?

Our word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo, which means “I believe.” “Some suggest credo is made up of two smaller words: cor is the word for ‘heart,’ as in ‘coronary’ or ‘cordially,’ and do means ‘I give’ and is the origin of donate.”[4] To believe, then, is to make a gift of the heart to Jesus, to give him the portion he desires, to give him the gift of our love proved even by fire. In his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, the Lord Jesus made a gift of his heart to us, even allowing his side to be opened so we might enter into his heart (cf. John 19:34). Let us in return make a gift of our hearts to him so that our credo, our “I believe,” may not be spoken in vain. Let us go forth with the joy that comes from being loved by God to announce the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus to everyone we meet so we might all sing together the joy of Easter: Alleluia!

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 229J.3
[2] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon on the Resurrection of the Lord, 4. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Vol. IV: Sermons for Festivals and Indexes, Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2010), 193.
[3] Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter.
[4] Christopher Carstens, A Devotional Journey into the Mass: How Mass Can Become a Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2017), 46.

05 April 2018

Coming Soon: A Documentary on Friendship in the Life and Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien

Reese Parquette is a young filmmaker in Springfield. His documentary, Mercy: Discovering God's Loverecently aired at EWTN.

At Reese's request, I recently sat down with Joseph Pearce, author of - among other titles - Tolkien: Man and Myth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), to talk about friendship in the life and writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.

It was a very enjoyable conversation and those who were present to watch us talk commented on how natural it all seemed. Joseph and I had not met previously, but a devotion to The Professor has a way of establishing a friendship between strangers rather easily. When the final edits are completed, the conversation will become a documentary titled, An Unexpected Friendship.

Though it was not planned so at first, this will actually become the first of a two-part documentary on friendship in the life and writings of Tolkien. The second part will be filmed in a few weeks on location in Oxford.

Reese's plan is to follow me around Oxford as I visit and talk about the sites important in the Professor's life in and around the famous medieval university city, culminating with a pilgrimage to his grave at Wolvercote Cemetery. It is a project about which I am rather excited, and for which Reese and I could use your assistance.

We are currently looking for donors willing to help fund the costs of our travel and of production of the documentary (with a total goal of $3,000). Any help you can provide - however large or small - will be greatly appreciated.

We are still working on the title for part two, though we might borrow a phrase Tolkien used to describe husbands and wives, "companions in shipwreck."

The 405 kindly offered to interview Reese and I concerning this project and has published an article about it titled, "J.R.R. Tolkien & 'something of the truth of human existence' - Meet filmmaker Reese Parquette & Fr. Daren Zehnle of An Unexpected Friendship".

31 March 2018

Homily - 30 March 2018 - Good Friday of the Lord's Passion

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

Dear brothers and sisters,

“Who would believe what we have heard” (Isaiah 53:1)? We might say that in some way this Friday which we call Good is about the voice of Jesus the Christ. Indeed, when the Lord Jesus identified himself to those who confronted him weapons and torches, “they turned away and fell to the ground” (John 18:6).

Reflecting on this powerful aspect of the Lord’s sorrowful Passion, Saint Augustine reminds us that

With no other weapon than his own solitary voice uttering the words ‘I am,’ he knocked down, repelled and rendered helpless that great crowd, even with all the ferocious hatred and terror of arms… And now even at the present time Christ is still saying through the Gospel, ‘I am.’ And … the result is the same, as people go backward and fall to the ground because they have abandoned what is heavenly in favor of what is earthly.[1]

Those soldiers and officers fell back because “God lay hid in that human flesh…”[2] They heard the voice of God and learned that “the voice of the Lord is powerful,” that “the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:4). So it was that they fell back in fear before him in fear.

We might also say that they fell back, they drew back, they retreated, because they did not want to conform themselves to “the Word made flesh,” to the one who is himself the truth (cf. John 1:14; cf. John 14:6). The Lord Jesus repeatedly spoke the truth to them and invited them to enter into the embrace of his love time and again, but they would not allow their hearts to be changed; they refused to repent and believe in the Gospel and so backed away from them (cf. Mark 1:15).

Because he desired them to open their ears to his words, he spoke “openly to the world” and often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (John 18:20; Matthew 11:15). They would not hear, but he did not stop speaking to them; rather, he continually offered the gift of his merciful love to them in order that they might allow his words to take root in their hearts. This is why the Lord Jesus commanded Peter to “put your sword back into its scabbard” (John 18:11). Not only was Peter’s act of defense contrary to the will of the Father, it also removed an opportunity for the slave of the high priest to hear anew the Word made flesh.

When the Lord restored Malchus to health by giving him back his ear, he signified “the renewed hearing that has been pruned of its oldness, that it may henceforth be in the newness of the spirit…”[3] What oldness needs to be pruned from us that our hearing might be renewed? Will we allow the strength of the Lord’s words to prune us, or will we, with the soldiers and the officers, draw back from him and refuse to hear the truth? Will we allow the solitary weapon of his voice to pierce our hearts? Let us this day not fall back from the voice of Christ Jesus to return to what is earthly, but let us instead fall down before the Cross of our Lord in humble love and ask him to strengthen our desire for the things of heaven. Let us, hearing his voice of power, of truth, and of love, believe. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 112.3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 112.5.

28 March 2018

Triduum Schedule

If you have not yet made plans to participate in the Sacred Triduum of the Lord Jesus Christ, please know that you are welcome join us at St. Augustine's in Ashland.

Here is our schedule for the coming days:

Images from Speculum humanae salvationis, HS 2502 12v, 20r

24 March 2018

Homily - Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, At the Mass - 24 March 2018

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
At the Mass

MS M.44 fol. 6r
Dear brothers and sisters,

The character of the Apostle Saint Peter is an intriguing one. He is a man who both loves Jesus deeply and one who repeatedly resists his will. We see this today as we reflect on the Passion of the Lord. It is Saint Peter’s loving devotion to Jesus that draws him to that fire in the courtyard of the high priest, while the others, except for John, had fled. And it is his repeated resistance to the will of the Lord that keeps him at the fire. Is our love for Jesus strong enough to bring us to the fire? Is our resistance to his will stubborn enough to keep as at the fire?

We also find something curious in the dialogue with those bystanders at the fire. As he answers their questions,

Peter cannot bring himself even to mention the name of Jesus: ‘I do not know this man about whom you are talking.’ His denial has progressed from evasion (cf. Mark 14:68) to outright repudiation (cf. Mark 14:70) to perjury (cf. Mark 14:71). But there is an ironic truth in his denial: he does not yet truly know Jesus.[1]

In this, Saint Peter is a man very much like many of us. As we enter this most holy of weeks, do we truly know Jesus? How often do we evade answering questions or about speaking about Jesus?

During this week in which we reflect upon the most important events ever to have happened in the universe, we can draw near to Saint Peter at the fire. It is at that fire that we can each begin

to meditate on [Jesus’] passion [and] begin to be illumined by the fire of divine love that radiates from the heart of Jesus through every moment of his sufferings, to begin to experience that in his passion he loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).[2]

The closer we draw near to this fire of divine love, the more we can understand and experience the mercy of Christ. The more we allow his heart to warm our own, the more we will desire to become like him and warm the colder areas of our own lives.

We find another curious aspect in that alabaster jar from which the woman anointed the feet of Jesus. The Greek word that our translation gives as “broke” literally means “shattered;” “the woman gives up any possibility of reusing the flask or saving some of its contents” (Mark 14:3).[3] Her action was more than a physical one; it carried a deeper meaning with it. She withheld nothing from the Lord Jesus and placed her very being at his service; may we, too, not be afraid of being known by Jesus and shatter the jars of our stubbornness, pride, and self-absorption at his feet. Let us place ourselves fully in his service and so be transformed and renewed by the power of his love. Amen.

[1] Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scriptures: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008), 303.
[2] Ibid., 302
[3] Ibid., 277

A happy update on Father Tolton's Cause for Canonization

Nearly a year before he transferred from the Gem City to the Windy City, the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton told the St. Joseph's Advocate, "All were my friends [at the Propaganda College], they all loved me, though I cannot say why" (January 1888).

One year later, after having moved to Chicago, he remarked to the Atlanta Constitution, "I encountered no prejudice whatever and after my ordination celebrated mass for four weeks in St. Augustine's, Rome, where princes and potentates worship (7 January 1889).

Some 130 years later, this seems to remain the same, as is demonstrated by the news I received  late last night, news that warmed my heart, regarding Father Gus' Cause for Canonization:
March 8, 2018
Historical Consultants to the Vatican Congregation for Causes of Saints reviewed the official positio on the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton and voted overwhelmingly that the Cause can move forward to eventually make its way to the desk of the Holy Father.
This, of course, is wonderful news and shows the Cause of Father Tolton continues to move forward and, by Roman standards, quickly so, for which we should render much thanks to God!

In canonical terms, a positio is something like a position paper which argues, in this case, that Father Tolton lived both the cardinal virtues - justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude - and the theological virtues - faith, hope, and love - to a heroic degree and so is worthy of receiving the honorific, title of "Venerable."

Let us pray the positio now quickly makes its way into the hands of His Holiness Pope Francis and that he finds time to read it soon. May the Holy Father also agree with its findings so our beloved Father Gus may soon be raised to the dignity of the altars!

19 March 2018

Homily - 18 March 2018 - The Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Fifth Sunday of the Lent (B)

We are, as it in were, in the midst of a slow liturgical death. On Ash Wednesday, the great song of Alleluia fell silent. Yesterday, the images of the Cross of the Lord and his saints were veiled to keep us more focused on the task at hand through a fasting even of the eyes. On Holy Thursday, the bells will fall silent, the altar will be stripped, and the holy water will be removed from the fonts. On Good Friday, even the Holy Mass is taken away. But then, suddenly, on Holy Saturday night, everything returns with what Saint Augustine called “the mother of all holy vigils,” the great Easter Vigil.[1] It is a slow, methodical, and intentional liturgical death, a dying culminating in the Resurrection of the Lord.

Each of these little deaths, each of these small sufferings which Mother Church offers to us, are a means of expressing something of what Jesus means when he says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). This is a passage very dear to my heart, one I first discovered on my first Great River Teens Encounter Christ retreat more than twenty years ago, and one that will be proclaimed at my funeral. With this common and everyday analogy, Jesus reveals the mystery of his own life and the mystery of the Christian faith. Just as the grain of wheat must surrender and die in order to break through the shell and the soil to reach the sunlight, so, too, do we die to our liturgical senses to focus more on the heart of Christ and so be perfected.

In much the same way, whenever we suffer, there is a certain dying that takes place as we come to accept the reality that we, with our will and desires, are not in control of our lives. There is a greater will than ours governing our lives to which we are called to obey, for the Lord says to us, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (John 12:26). This is why Saint Peter encourages us, saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (I Peter 4:12-13).

Following Jesus in this manner seems a daunting and risky proposition. Rather than accepting suffering as something good, our first instinct is often to do all we can to remove it. This, however, is not the example of our Lord who “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He accepted the Cross as the will of the Father. He loved us to the end by giving his life for us, by allowing himself to be

like a grain of wheat that God the Father has sown in the world. Indeed, only in this way can a new humanity germinate and grow, free from the dominion of sin and able to live in brotherhood, as sons and daughters of the one Father who is in Heaven.[2]

Are we willing to accept the pain that comes with this growth? Are we willing to die to ourselves to allow the new growth, the new and full humanity, Christ yearns for us to have?

He calls us to imitate himself and to unite ourselves to his Cross, but what does it mean to be wheat? It means,

Letting oneself be permeated by the forces of the earth and from on high. Letting oneself be changed in them, letting oneself be decisively transformed by what comes to us as a challenge: by God’s trials, by his gifts, by yearning, by the good things and the difficult things that people give us to bear. And growing, becoming new in this maturation process.[3]

This is the task and the challenge of the Christian life, especially in these final days of Lent and the deliberate removal of various aspects of the liturgy can help us take up again the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to endure and triumph with Christ over the many trials that come to us.

He calls each of us to become like that grain and die to our selfish ambitions, desires, and sin in order to produce much fruit, both in our lives and in the lives of others. He calls us to unite our sufferings with his own for the salvation of the world. This is what we call redemptive suffering, a suffering that benefits others, a suffering that is not suffered in vain. This is what gives suffering its beauty, its power, and its grace. Like the grain of wheat, each of us must struggle to overcome our selfishness and live for Christ in order to bear his fruit in our lives, the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who produce these fruits will be with Jesus because they will have become like him.

If we desire to be with the Lord we must follow him; and whoever follows him must be his servant, so that we might be called, in the end, his friends (cf. John15:15). Therefore, whoever wishes to be with Jesus must follow him to the Cross. In a word, a Christian must be willing to suffer. This is, in effect, the response Jesus gives to those who said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Is this not the yearning of every heart, to see Jesus, to see him who is the fulfillment of our every desire? The Lord knows this, for he has placed it within our hearts.

It is curious to note that Jesus uses his analogy of the dying wheat after the request of the Greeks to see him. Whenever we say, “We wish to see you,” the Lord responds as he did in the Gospel: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). It is as though he says, “The time has come for you to see my Cross. If you wish to see me, you must look to my Cross; if you wish to see me, look to your sufferings. In these you will see me and know my glory.”

When the voice of the Father was heard confirming all that Jesus had said, some in the crowd thought it only thunder. Why? They did not hear the truth because they remained in the crowd, outside the circle of Jesus’ friends; they were near him, but they were not close to him; they refused to enter into the mystery of Jesus Christ. The same is true with us. If we wish to remain merely as bystanders to the suffering of Jesus and to his Cross, we will not see his glory. But if we enter into his suffering, if we embrace his Cross in our lives, then we will see him and recognize his glory.

In these coming days, then, may we, like humble grains of wheat, so allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s challenges and gifts as to mature in faith, in hope, and in love. May we seek to become obedient to the Cross as it comes to us and so be perfected in the glory of Christ. And, having been perfected, may we see him face to Face. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 219.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 29 March 2009.
[3] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today. Michael J. Miller, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 52.