Saturday, January 26, 2008

Homily: Jesus, Light to the Nations for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew was one of twelve apostles, a Jew, writing to his fellow Jews to convince them that Jesus is the expected Messiah.

Matthew describes Jesus’ journey to Galilee and quotes the prophet Isaiah 8, 23-9,1. Matthew sees Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy as a light to the nations who dispels the darkness of ignorance and death and brings life truth and salvation. This passage is also used as one of the readings on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of God made man.During the time of Isaiah, the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali had been devastated by the Assyrians in the period 734-721 B.C.. A great number of the Jews were driven into exile in Assyria and foreigners were moved into the region to colonize it. From this time on it is referred to as the "Galilee of the Gentiles". This is the land that would be the first to receive the light of Christ’s preaching.

Jesus begins his public ministry with the words "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand." Repentance is necessary to clear away the obstacles that prevent the light from reaching our souls.

Then he invites his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven. He begins to lay the foundation of his Church which is called to be a sign of God’s Kingdom, a sign of the Light’s Presence by calling his first apostles.

Christ calls each of us to be his light in the world. Evangelization is the work of every member of the Church, not just the Pope, bishops and priests. We share the light of Christ by our fidelity to and witnessing to the truth of the teachings of Jesus and his Church. We share the light of Christ by through our kindness, perseverance in the midst of struggle, and forgiveness.

When he visited Denver in 1993, Pope John Paul II said that this marvelous world so loved by the Father “is the theater of a never ending battle being waged for our dignity and identity as free, spiritual beings.” He spoke of a ``culture of death'' that seeks to impose itself on our desire to live, and live to the full. There are those who reject the light of life, preferring ``the fruitless works of darkness'' (Eph 5:11). Their harvest is injustice, discrimination, exploitation, deceit, violence.” In every age, this results in the death of innocents. He cited examples in the twentieth century of “genocide, 'final solutions', 'ethnic cleansings' and the massive taking of lives of human beings event before they are born, or before they reach the natural point of death.
“The family especially is under attack. And the sacred character of human life denied. Naturally the weakest members of society are the most at risk: the unborn, children, the sick, the handicapped, the old, the poor and unemployed, the immigrant and refugee…”

He called on young people to put their energy and youthful ideals into spreading the Gospel of Life and warned of the devastating consequences for themselves and society if they failed by saying “Woe to you if you do not succeed in defending life.”

The Gospel is not meant to be hidden out of fear or indifference. It is not just a private affair between us and God. The Gospel is like a lamp placed on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:15-16). In his Gospel John writes "this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it'' (Jn 1:4-5).

The Lord can use us despite our weaknesses to be instruments of his light and salvation. We are frail and sinful human beings, but we can point to the Light beyond us, to the Light that is Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls today to be Light and to bring the Light into that darkness. Ultimately we will win since we believe that Life is more powerful than the forces of death; they know that the Truth is more powerful than darkness; that Love is stronger than death (cf. Song 6:8). The light of the culture of life will overcome the darkness of the culture of death.

The Book of Revelation describes Mary, as the Woman clothed with the sun (cf. Rev 12:1). That light is the light of Christ. With her Son she does battle against the Dragon, a symbol of Satan and the forces of the culture of death. This book speaks of the final victory of life over death. We call on our Blessed Mother today to help remove the obstacles that prevent us from experiencing the light in its’ fullness and announce to others by the way we live: "The Lord is my light and my salvation".

Friday, January 18, 2008

Behold the Lamb of God

This oil painting is titled Ecce Agnus Dei (1464). The painter was Dieric Bouts the Elder (ca. 1415-1475) of the Netherlands. It can be found in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Germany.
John the Baptist points out Jesus by saying “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The lamb is a symbol of Israel's redemption from slavery in Egypt.

Because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God sent a tenth plague that was the last and worst than all the rest. An angel of the Lord would take the life of the first born son of every household. The Israelites were told to slay a spotless, male lamb and to smear they blood on their doors. The angel of the Lord would pass over all the houses whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb.

The Passover lamb prefigures Christ, the true Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.

In Isaiah 53, it speaks of the future Messiah as a suffering servant who would be pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins.

Isaiah says:

7. Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a
lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.

11. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.

12. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.
The Book of Revelation portrays Christ as the Lamb who was slain, but who has defeated death and is clothed with glory in heaven surrounded by the angels and saints who worship Him as God. Jesus is called the Lamb of God 28 times in the Book of Revelation. Revelation 5, 6 says “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing."

In the Eucharist we commemorate Christ’s victory over death. The Eucharist is a representation of the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. In each Mass Christ is both victim and priest. He does not die again. He offers himself to the father in a victorious and unbloody way, thus applying the fruits of that sacrifice to our time today. We participate through our prayers and offering ourselves together to God with the priest. This is the real value of the Mass. Also, if we are properly disposed, we receive Jesus, the Lamb of God in Holy Communion.
The Eucharist teaches us the meaning of love. As Christ gave himself up in sacrifice for us as the innocent Lamb of God, so also we are called to make sacrifices for God and others.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that one of the effects of a worthy Eucharist is that it commits us to the poor. To receive Jesus worthily, we must also recognize him in the poorest among us.

The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.
St. John Chrysostom in his homily chastised the rich of his day who excluded the poor from their Eucharistic banquets:

You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother,. . . . You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food judged worthy to take part in this meal. . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.
I believe the poorest among us today are our unborn brothers and sisters who are threatened by abortion and the elderly, sick and handicapped threatened by euthanasia. Pope Paul VI spoke of contraception, sterilization and abortion as limiting the number of guests invited to the banquet of life.

In instituting the Eucharist, Christ said “This is my Body, given up for you.” Those who defend abortion say the same words, but with the opposite meaning. They say “This is my body. I’ll do what I want with it, even if the child living inside of me must die.”

This attitude has led to what Pope John Paul II called a ‘culture of death’. This was a constant theme of his pontificate, a clash that was occurring in our society between “a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered ‘unuseful’ – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection.”

The greatest symptom of the ‘culture of death’ is legalized abortion. Since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 there have been over 48 million abortions. In fact, today in the United Sates one out of every five pregnancies ends in abortion. Today there are new attacks on human life such as embryonic stem cell research that purports to give us cures at the cost of killing a living human embryo. All of us at one time passed through the embryonic stage. At the moment of fertilization, you don’t have a potential human being, but a human being with great potential. There are alternatives to embryonic stem cell research that don’t involve killing. Privately funded embryonic stem cell research has gone on for years and no cures have been found. There have been successful cures and treatments with the use of adult stem cells that can be obtained without killing anyone, through bone marrow, skin, fat, umbilical cords, placentas and most recently through amniotic fluid.

A lack of respect for life in its' beginning stages has also led to a lack of respect for life in its' end stages. Today we here more calls for euthanasia or ‘mercy killing’. What Pope John Paul II called ‘a false mercy. In 1997, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide. This has put the poor, minorities, frail, depressed, those who lack insurance and those who could be branded as an economic liability most at risk. While Oregon will pay to help a person to commit suicide they won’t pay for adequate pain management, living assistance or some life saving treatments.

The Church does make a distinction between extraordinary care. We always have a right to refuse overzealous treatment; treatment which is merely death delaying rather than life sustaining, but ordinary care which is a basic right of every human being. If food and water are withdrawn, a person dies not from their illness, but from a cause that we have introduced starvation and dehydration.

In 1994 Mother Teresa spoke of the harm abortion has done to America when she said "America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters"

“And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign."

It was both Pope John Paul II’s and Mother Teresa’s hope, that Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed would resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life. One crucial element of that choice is that the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society.

Sometimes we might feel that we're powerless to overcome the culture of death, but I don't believe that's true. All of us can do something. Our readings today remind us of our call to holiness and our vocation to be light to the nations…baptized as sons and daughters of God. We are called to be a light, a beacon, to every people, primarily by the way we live, both in our private lives and in the way we conduct our activities and shape our policies as a Church and as a society.

In your bulletins today you will find a pamphlet from Priests for Life entitled You Can Save Someone's Life Today It will give you practical suggestions that you can use to put an end to the tragedy of abortion in our nation. We know we have to do more than simply say that abortion is wrong. We have to help women. So at the top of the page we list five different pregnancy resource hotline numbers where women can call and get the help that they need before and after they give birth for as long as they need it. These resource centers provide food, clothing, shelter, medical help, legal help, whatever they might need in order to bring their baby to term. By passing on these numbers to a woman in need, you truly can help to save a life. There is also information on adoption, a loving alternative to abortion.

We also promote post-abortion healing and reconciliation. We don’t condemn people. We want to extend a helping hand. We promote Project Rachel - the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church and Rachel's Vineyard retreats in order to help both men and women who have been involved in abortions to find healing and peace.

The Church also teaches us that voting is not only our right, it is our duty and we have a duty to use our vote to advance the cause of life, especially the cause of God's children who are unborn disabled or are otherwise vulnerable.

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family Pope John Paul II wrote:

The social role of families is called to find expression in political intervention; Families should be the first to take steps that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family. Along these lines families should be aware of being protagonists of what is known as family politics. And assume responsibility for transforming society.
Of course, we must be concerned with a range of issues when we cast our vote, but if the fundamental right to life is not protected al, all other rights are meaningless.

Sometimes people will say that they are personally opposed to abortion, but think others should have a choice. They say they don't want to impose their morality on others. They tell us they are not pro-abortion but "pro-choice." They say the government should have nothing to do with this very personal decision. Before the Civil War many people made a similar argument about slavery. People said things like "Personally, I'm opposed to slavery. I would never own one myself, but I don't want to impose my morality on anyone else. A person should have a right to choose whether or not to own slaves. I don't think the government should be involved." We see through the fallacy of that argument very easily today. The arguments are equally fallacious when they are applied to abortion.

When life begins is not a matter of faith. We can show that life begins at the moment of fertilization through science. At the moment of fertilization, you have a separate unique human being with a different genetic structure than either the father or the mother. At that moment the sex, eye color, skin color, shoe size, intelligence is all determined by the genetic code in the forty-six human chromosomes. Also, the sanctity of life ethic is not a religious doctrine, but the basic principle upon which this nation was founded. The American Bishops remind us "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal."

I would now like to close with a poem that was written by a grandmother that I met in Arizona on one of my trips for Priests For Life who is writing about the loss of her own little granddaughter from an abortion.

I hope you will join with me in praying for an end to abortion and for the protection of all human life. The Lamb of God, through his suffering conquered death and won for us the gift of eternal life. He calls each of us to make sacrifices, to use our unique talents and gifts for the service of God and his Church. We can work toward bringing about a more just society and build a culture of life in which each and every human being will be welcomed, protected, nurtured and loved from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

Pope Benedict XVI Holy Thursday Homily 2007

Isaiah 53

Thursday, January 17, 2008

St. Anthony of Egypt

This painting is titled The Temptation of St. Anthony (ca. 1500) by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516) from the Netherlands. It is displayed in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, Portugal.

At the age of 20, St. Anthony was inspired by the Gospel passage “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21). So first he made sure his sister was well provided for and then he gave away a large inheritance and all his possesions. He than pursued a life of solitude in the desert.

People were fascinated by him and were drawn to seek his guidance. He advised people to base their lives on the Gospel. The painting above represents the spiritual battles he fought and won through his prayer and sacrifice. They represent temptations to pride, wealth, power, lust, excesses of food and drink and the Devil who is represented as a pig.

At the age of 54, he founded a simple monastery with scattered cells for those who wanted to follow him as monks. St. Anthony gave spiritual and material support to prisoners during the great persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. Later he also gave vigorous support to those who were combatting the Arian heresy which was tearing apart the Church. The Arians denied the Divinity of Christ.

He died at the ripe old age of 105 in the year 356. He instructed his followers to bury his body in a secret grave, because he didn't want his grave to be a place of veneration. He left no writings, but some of his teachings was recorded in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Homily on Jesus Sending His Apostles as Sheep Among Wolves ( Matthew 10, 16-25 )

Above is a painting titled " The Sending of the Twelve" by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca. 1255-1319) from the early 14th century. He was an Italian painter of the Sienese School.

Jesus says “Remember, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” By saying this Jesus tries to warn his disciples in advance that the mission he is giving them will expose them to rejection and even outright hostility and violence.

The teaching of the Gospel challenges the ways of the world. Those living according to the ways of the world reject it and want to silence it. The Gospel challenges people to live not for themselves, but for God and others. It declares certain things to be immoral and challenges people to reform their lives. It even has political implications. So Herod sought to destroy Jesus even as an infant because he viewed him as a threat to his authority. The Pharisees sought to put Christ to death because they not only saw him as a blasphemer, but also as a threat to their authority.

In Nazi Germany and in Communist Russia parents literally informed on children and children on their parents and had them put to death because of the practice of their Christian faith.

Some people fall away from God in times of suffering. They don’t understand how bad things can happen to good people. But Jesus never promised an easy life for his disciples in this world. He warns us that his followers would suffer persecution. Jesus says:
No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master.

It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household! (Matthew 10, 24-25).

If Christ was persecuted, so also will his faithful followers. But Christ promises to give them inner strength by the power of the Holy Spirit to remain faithful in spite of persecution.

When the Apostles began to suffer persecution after Pentecost, they rejoiced to be found worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus (Acts 5, 40-41). We can suffer as a result of our own sins or we can suffer for Christ.

St. Peter in his first letter says:

But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. (1 Peter 3, 13-16)
Before the Apostles had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost they were unable to endure persecution. Peter could not understand or endure it when Christ told the apostles that he would go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, be killed and on the third day be raised. Peter took Jesus him aside and said "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." Jesus rebuked Peter severely saying "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Jesus told him about the necessity of any of his followers to deny themselves and taking up the cross. Matthew 16, 16-25

It was only after Jesus had risen from the dead that they understood the Scriptures that Jesus had tried to explain to them. Then only after receiving the Holy Spirit were the Apostles willing and able to preach the Gospel without fear.

The persecution of Christians is not just a thing of the past. It continues to our present time and will occur until the end of time. John Henry Cardinal Newman writing in the nineteenth century said:
The instance cannot be found in the history of mankind, in which an anti-Christian power could long abstain from persecution.
Throughout history the faith has been rejected and Christians have been exiled, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of their witness for Christ. It continues to happen in China, parts of Africa, Muslim countries and various places around the world.

Although there have been a few instances of physical persecution of pro-lifers, most of the persecution we endure is psychological. The values of the Gospel of Life are at odds with the culture of death. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised whenever our preaching is met with incomprehension, criticism, disapproval or outright rejection.

If we want to be faithful to Christ, we will also suffer some type of persecution. We need to learn to accept it without becoming discouraged by it. It’s difficult, because we all want to be understood, appreciated and respected.

Studying the history of the Church and the lives of the saints helps us to understand how the message of the Gospel can survive and even thrive in spite of persecution. The early Christians recognized as Tertullian wrote in the early 3rd century:
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

St. Ambrose of Milan led St. Augustine into the Church through his preaching and prayers. He himself endured the persecution of many exiles encouraged his followers to hold fast to Christ during persecution. He asked:

How do we hold him fast? Not by restraining chains or knotted ropes but by bonds of love, by spiritual reins, by the longings of the soul.

If you also, like the bride, wish to hold him fast, seek him and be fearless of suffering. It is often easier to find him in the midst of bodily torments, in the very hands of persecutors.

His bride says: How short a time it was after I left them. In a little space, after a brief moment, when you have escaped from the hands of your persecutors without yielding to the powers of this world, Christ will come to you, and he will not allow you to be tested for long.
We need not be afraid of persecution. God will strengthen us. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus exhorts his disciples to pray. It is through prayer that the disciples would find the strength to be faithful to Christ despite persecution. But instead of praying the disciples fell asleep.

If we feed ourselves spiritually through prayer, spiritual reading meditation and the sacraments we will find the courage to endure persecution.

When we read the lives of the saints we see that sometimes the persecution they experienced came from leaders in the Church. But the saints did not blame their suffering on the Church itself and their suffering only made them cleave all the more to Christ, his Church and the sacraments.

St. Jerome says that persecution is not only not to be feared, it is in some sense necessary to live a good Christian life.

Nothing is to be more feared than to long a peace. You are deceived if you think a Christian can live without persecution. He suffers the greatest persecution of all who suffers none. A storm puts a man on his guard and obliges him to exert his utmost efforts to avoid shipwreck.
We show our love and fidelity for Christ not only by loving him in times of peace and success, but by our faithfulness in times of trial, rejection and loss.

St. Ambrose said:

Be devoted to God and do not fear, for no wounds can come to those who follow Christ. Even if they take away the life of your body, Christ is still with you.
If we are faithful to Christ in persecution we will experience the joy of life in the Spirit. Jesus will speak to us in our hearts and give us his peace and joy, and ultimately bring us into his Kingdom in heaven.

This is a link to the story of St. Berard and his companions. They were Franciscan martyrs who were beheaded on January 16, 1220 when they preached in that country and refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. When their relics were brought to Lisbon, it inspired St. Anthony of Padua to join the Franciscans. We can ask their prayers for us as we share the Gospel in an inceasingly difficult environment and to help us to have the courage of our convictions.

Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord

The painting above of the Baptism of Christ (ca. 1640) is by Francesco Albani (1578-1660). Albani was an Italian Baroque painter. It is found in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Baptism of the Lord concludes the Christmas season and the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Last week we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” Christ’s Baptism is a further manifestation of who Jesus is. It is a further unveiling of the mystery of the Incarnation that occurred when Mary said yes to the message of the angel, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We might ask why was Christ baptized? He is God Himself. He was totally pure and without sin. Christ did many things that he didn’t have to do:

1) He is the Divine Word through whom all things came into existence. God did not need to create the world in order to be fulfilled. (John 1, 3).

2) He took on our human nature freely to save us from sin. (cf. John 1,11-14).

3) He paid the Temple tax, even though he was Lord of the Temple. (Mat. 17, 24-27).

4.) He gave his life freely on the cross that we might have eternal life. (cf. John 10, 18).

St. Augustine taught that Jesus was baptized out of humility to be an example for us who need to be baptized out of necessity.

St. Peter Chrysologus says of today’s feast: “Today Christ enters the Jordan to wash away the sin of the world. John himself testifies that this is why he has come: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Today a servant lays his hand on the Lord, a man lays his hand on God. John lays his hand on Christ, not to forgive but to receive forgiveness.

St. Maximus of Turin says: “Christ is baptized not to be made holy by the waters but to make the water holy.”

The Sacrament of Baptism was prefigured by an event long before Christ when Moses led the Jewish people out of the slavery of Egypt. It was the Lord who led them out of Egypt by a cloud of fire. The cloud of fire moved across the Red Sea and it split the sea in two so that Moses and all the Jews could cross and escape from the Egyptians who were chasing them to kill them. When they crossed through the Sea the Jews were saved from death at the hand of the Egyptians. When we were baptized, we were saved from eternal death due to sin.

Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim good news to the poor, open eyes of the blind, set captives free, to proclaim Kingdom of God.

We share in Christ’s mission through our own Baptism. Baptism is a privilege we must live up to it or be more severely judged. By baptism, we are called to serve, not just spectators. Confirmation strengthens call we have from baptism, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

Pope Benedict XVI said “There is a profound relationship between Christ’s baptism and our baptism. In the Jordan, the heavens were opened (cf. Luke 3:21) to indicate that the Savior opened to us the way of salvation and that we can follow it precisely thanks to the new birth “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), which takes place in baptism. In it, we are introduced in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church, we die and rise with him, we are clothed in him, as the Apostle Paul underlines on several occasions (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27).

The commitment that arises from baptism consists therefore in “listening” to Jesus, that is, to believe in him and follow him docilely doing his will, the will of God. In this way, each one of us can aspire to holiness, a goal that, as the Second Vatican Council reminded, constitutes the vocation of all the baptized. May we be helped by Mary, mother of the beloved Son of God, to always be faithful to our Baptism.”

Through our Baptism we are called to holiness. Through our baptism we are called to transform our society. Christians are called to confront the culture of death and build a culture of life.
Today we call on Christ to help us to appreciate the gift of life and the gift of our own Baptism. Whatever your station in life, God wants to use you now to carry on the mission of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and lead others to Jesus.

One of the greatest tragedies about abortion is that not only does it deprive the innocent child of life, but also of the gift of the Sacrament of Baptism, though the Church teaches us we can commend these children to the mercy of God.

I would like to share a poem written by a grandmother who lost her own granddaughter to an abortion.

Dear Sara

I hope that you will pray every day for an end to the violence of abortion. Each one of us is called by our Baptism to build a world of true justice, to pray and work towards the day when every child will be able to celebrate their birthday and receive the gift of the Sacrament of Baptism

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

The painting above is the Adoration of the Magi (1505) by the German painter Albrecht Durer (1471-1528).

The word Epiphany is a Greek word which means “manifestation” or "showing forth". On this day we celebrate the fact that Jesus took on our human nature to be the savior not only for the Jews, but for all the nations. This idea is presented in St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians that "through Christ the Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews, members of the same body and sharers of the promise through the preaching of the Gospel." (3, 5-6)

The prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Christ has said about him: “Nations shall walk by your light” and “your sons come from afar.” And Psalm 72 says “all nations shall pay him homage, all nations serve him for the lives of the poor he will save.”

In Jewish circles at the time of Jesus, there was a widespread hope that the coming of the Messiah would take place soon. The Jews had made this hope known throughout the Mideast region and into Asia. The wise men knew about this expected Messiah- the King of the Jews. The Magi believed that a star was associated with the birth of great leaders. But the light of the Star would not have helped them find Christ if he had not first placed in their hearts the light of faith, which was to lead these representatives of the Gentiles to leave their own country and begin a weary journey which would bring them step by step to more perfect knowledge. They came to him, not as to a simple man, but as to God and to their source of blessing.

The Church, according to very ancient traditions, sees the gifts of the Magi as symbolic of Christ’s mission and character. Gold, was the most precious metal of the day. It was offered to kings and was also symbolic of wisdom. The Magi honored the infant Jesus as a King by offering him this precious and valuable gift. Frankincense was used in worship. It was a sign that as God he is worthy of worship and also as a priest offering himself in sacrifice, he would give perfect worship to his Father in heaven. Myrrh was used to embalm bodies in preparation for burial. It symbolized how Jesus would give worship to his Father by sacrifice - the offering of his life as a victim for our sins.

The magi do not return by the same way that they came. St. Gregory the Great says this is symbolic of the two ways we can follow. First, going back to Herod symbolizes the way of the world that leads to destruction and the other way, the way of Christ leads to the everlasting Kingdom of God, our true home.

St. Gregory says “It is paradise that is our true country, to which, having come to know Jesus, we are forbidden to return by the way we came. For we left our land by the way of pride and disobedience, by following after the things of this world, by tasting forbidden food; and so we must return to it by the way of tears, by obedience, by contempt of the world, and by restraining the desires of the flesh. Let us return then to our own country by another way, and since we cut ourselves off from the joys of heaven because of earthly delights, let us recover them again through penance.”
What connections can we make between the Epiphany and respect for human life?
First, the Gospel that Christ came to proclaim is the Gospel of Life. Pope John Paul II said “The Gospel of God’s love for man, the Gospel of dignity of the human person and the Gospel of Life are one single indivisible Gospel.” To be pro-life is not something optional for a Christian. It’s at the heart of the Gospel. To reject the pro-life message is to reject the Gospel.

Second, Jesus by his Incarnation has given new value to each and every human life created in the image and likeness of God, including life in the womb. Jesus can identify with the unborn child because he was one of them. He was an embryo, a fetus, and infant and an adult. By taking on our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary Christ sanctified all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. He taught that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to him.

Third, the call of Christ is universal. It includes men and women of every nation, race, religion, born or unborn. St. Ambrose asks “But what was it that moved the Magi to adore Him? For the Virgin bore upon her no distinguishing mark, and the abode was not one of splendor;… For of the things that fell upon their outward senses there was nothing striking: there was only a manger, a mud hut, a poor mother.” Just so every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and must be treated with dignity and respect in spite of appearances, size, stage of development in or outside the womb.

Fourth, Pope John Paul II says that human life is “a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory (cf. Gen 1:26-27; Ps 8:6). This is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wanted to emphasize in his celebrated definition: ‘Man, living man, is the glory of God’. Man has been given a sublime dignity, based on the intimate bond which unites him to his Creator: in man there shines forth a reflection of God himself” (The Gospel of Life, n. 34).
Fifth, God has given us gifts. We must give back in return. St. Ambrose says that when we hear about the Magi bringing gifts for Jesus we should consider what we have to give to God. He says “ ….let us, Brethren, offer similar gifts, from our treasures. For we have treasures, in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). If you consider that which you are as being, not from thee, but from Christ: how much more ought you not to consider that which you own as being, not yours, but Christ’s?”
God gave us life so we must defend the lives of others. Pope Benedict XVI has been tremendously strong in his defense of human life and the family. In November of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI visited Kenya and instructed the bishops that “[w]hen you preach the Gospel of Life, remind your people that the right to life of every innocent human being, born or unborn, is absolute and applies equally to all people with no exception whatsoever."

At the same time he said that the Catholic community “must offer support to those women who may find it difficult to accept a child, above all when they are isolated from their family and friends.” Catholics should also “be open to welcome back all who repent of having participated in the grave sin of abortion, and should guide them with pastoral charity to accept the grace of forgiveness, the need for penance, and the joy of entering once more into the new life of Christ."

Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II emphasized that being personally opposed to abortion is not enough. Like us, the unborn deserve the protection of law. Pope John Paul II told the American Bishops “Laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings...are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law” (Evangelium Vitae, 72). What is at stake here is nothing less than the indivisible truth about the human person on which the Founding Fathers staked your nation’s claim to independence. The life of a country is much more than its material development and its power in the world. A nation needs a “soul”.

Thus it is very important who we choose to lead our nation as President, who picks the next Supreme Court Justices; who we choose as Senators - those who vote to confirm these judges, who we send to Congress and who we choose for every level of government when we cast our vote. The Bishops have said that voting is not only our right, but a duty and also an opportunity to build a culture of life. We have the duty to use our vote "to defend human life, especially those of God's children who are unborn, disabled or are otherwise vulnerable. " (LGL #33)

Just as each individual has gifts to give to God so does each nation. Hopefully, one day soon we will restore the principles upon which America was founded, restore the right to life of the unborn and respect each life made in the image and likeness of God from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. The gift of living up to the principles expressed in our Declaration of Independence and respecting life as an inalienable right from our Creator can be America’s gift to God and the world.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Holy Name of Jesus

Above is a painting by El Greco (1541-1614) depicting the Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus. (c. 1578)

The letters IHS in the heavens are an abbreviation of Jesous, the Greek name for Jesus. The name Jesus means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation."

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus has been celebrated since 1530. When Pope Paul VI revised the liturgical calendar in 1969 the Feast was dropped, but Pope John Paul II reinstituted the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus to be celebrated on Jan. 3.

St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians writes, "So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord" (2:10-11).

An old spiritual manual lists four benefits of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus.

1. Invoking the name of Jesus brings help in bodily needs. After Pentecost, St. Peter met a beggar at the Temple Gate who asked him for money. But St. Peter answered, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you! In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, walk!". The beggar got up and began to walk (Acts 3:1-10).

2. The name of Jesus gives us help in spiritual distress. It is by invoking Jesus' Holy Name that our sins are forgiven. At Pentecost, St. Peter said, "Then shall everyone be saved who calls on the name of the Lord" (2:21).

3. The name of Jesus protects us from demons and their temptations.

4. We receive every grace and blessing through the Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus said, "I give you my assurance, whatever you ask the Father, He will give you in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full" (Jn 16:23-24 ).

St. Bernadine of Siena and his student St. John of Capistrano promoted the Holy Name of Jesus in the 15th Century. Many miracles were reported after St. Bernardine and St. John invoked the name of Jesus and blessed the faithful a monogram of the initials IHS that they carried around with them, invoking the name of Jesus. They encouraged the faithful to place the over the city gates and the doorways of their homes.

In 1454, Pope Callistus asked St. John to preach in Austria and Germany asking the faithful to invoke the Holy Name of Jesus and to recruit soldiers to fight against Turkish Moslems who were ravaging Eastern Europe. Plague had depleted the population of Europe and left it vulnerable to attack. St. John of Capistrano encouraged many Christian men to join the army of the Hungarian General Janos Hunyadi. The Christians won a great victory at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456. St. John, himself, led one wing of the army.

St. Bernadine of Siena said: “Glorious name, gracious name, name of love and of power! Through you sins are forgiven, through you enemies are vanquished, through you the sick are freed from their illness, through you those suffering in trials are made strong and cheerful. You bring honor to those who believe, you teach those who preach, you give strength to the toiler, you sustain the weary”.

Many parishes have Holy Name Societies. This Society was first formed to make reparation for blasphemies against the Holy Name of Jesus.

If you wish to participate in this devotion, I recommend you recite the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus Pope Leo XIII promoted this litany because he was hoped to see " ... an increase in the devotion toward this glorious name of Jesus among the faithful, especially in a period when this august name is shamelessly scoffed at."

I also recommend reciting the Divine Praises as an expression of love for God and reparation for offenses of blasphemy. We should also pray these litanies for protection against terrorists and for a greater respect for innocent life from the womb to the tomb.

Pro-Life Quotes from St. Basil the Great and Other Early Christians

January 2 is the Memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. They were good friends and holy bishops who fought courageously for the truth and defended the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

The following are quotes from St. Basil, other Church Fathers and other early Christian writings. They show a consistent witness in favor of life from the beginning of Church history. Below that is more about the lives of St. Basil and St. Gregory:

A woman who deliberately destroys a fetus is answerable for murder.
St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

any hairsplitting distinction as to its being formed or unformed is inadmissible with us.
St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

Those who give potions for the destruction of a child conceived in the womb are murderers, as are those who take potions which kill the child.
St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.)

Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. Didache (1st Century)

Never do away with an unborn child or destroy it after its birth. Epistle of Barnabas (c. 120 A.D.)

What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God? Athenagoras of Athens, who wrote to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (c.177 A.D.) to defend Christians against false charges of murder.

You do not let a prostitute remain a prostitute, but make her a murderer as well. St. John Chrysostom (c.345-407 A.D.) said that men who pressured women into having abortions were guilty of even worse than murder.

St. Basil's brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394 A.D.), saw the fetus as a complete human being from the time of conception, and specifically rejected theories based upon formation or quickening. He said:

There is no question about that which is bred in the uterus, both growing, and moving from place to place. It remains, therefore, that we must think that the point of commencement of existence is one and the same for body and soul.

Abortion is a precipitation of murder, nor does it matter whether or not one takes a life when formed, or drives it away when forming, for he is also a man who is about to be one. Tertullian of Carthage (c.160-c.230A.D.)

Saint Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.) was the Bishop of Cappadocia and a Doctor of the Church. He vigorously opposed both the Arian and Appollanarian heresies. Arians denied that Jesus Christ was a Divine Person. The Appollonarians went to the other extreme of denying that Jesus had a human soul

Basil was well known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. Together with St. Gregory Nazianzen and Basil's brother Gregory of Nyssa they are referred to as the Cappadocian Fathers.

St. Basil’s monastic rule established norms for prayer, community life and manual labor. Eastern monks still follow this rule today.

Basil was born into the wealthy Christian family in Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. His mother was St. Nonna and his father, St. Gregory the Elder. His maternal grandfather was martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian.

He began studies in law and rhetoric in Constantinople and later Athens. He and St. Gregory Nazianzen became great friends when they studied together at Athens, although they were quite different. Basil was a strong leader and a good administrator. Gregory was more of a poet and contemplative. Basil experienced a religious awakening when he was in Athens.

He described his spiritual awakening in a letter:

I had wasted much time on follies and spent nearly all of my youth in vain labors, and devotion to the teachings of a wisdom that God had made foolish. Suddenly, I awoke as out of a deep sleep. I beheld the wonderful light of the Gospel truth, and I recognized the nothingnes of the wisdom of the princes of this world.
Following the advice of his sister, St. Macrina, Basil became a monk. He traveled to Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia to learn asceticism. To practice asceticism is to put one’s the body at the service of the spirit. He gave away his wealth to the poor. Then along with several family members he began to live a life devoted to piety and charitable works on his family estate in Pontus. Shortly after he was joined by Gregory Nazianzen.

St. Basil was ordained a priest by Eusebius of Caesarea in 365. Basil and Gregory spent the next few years using their rhetorical skills to fight against the Arian heresy. They beat Arian theologians in public debates presided over by representatives of the Emperor Valens.

In 370, St. Basil succeeded Eusebius as the Bishop of Caesarea. During a time of famine and drought, Basil gave away his family’s inheritance to the poor and built a large complex called the Basiliad just outside Caesarea which included a poorhouse, hospice and a hospital. The Basiliad was built on land donated by Valens who was impressed by him, but also banished him several times in order to try to make Basil compromise on matters of faith, which he never did.

He could be found at the Basiliad wearing an apron and feeding the hungry. He urged his followers to Give your last loaf to the beggar at your door, and trust in God's goodness. Though he was strong in denouncing sin he was equally zealous in proclaiming a message of God’s mercy to sinners. His letters show that he worked among thieves and prostitutes to win their conversion. One could imagine St. Basil addressing the following words to them:

Be aware of God's compassion, that it heals with oil and wine. Do not lose hope of salvation. Remember what is written--the one who falls shall rise again, and the one who turns away shall turn again, the wounded is healed, the one caught by wild beasts escapes, the one who confesses is not rejected.

For the Lord does not want the sinner to die, but to return and live.

There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside. For when you turn away and weep, then you will be saved.

He warned priests not to be tempted by wealth and a relatively easy life. He personally took on the task of making sure that only worthy candidates would be ordained as priests. St. Basil admonished public officials to pursue justice.

St. Basil suffered from a disease of the liver and his ascetical practices probably shortened his life. He died at the age of 49.

Many of his writings are still in existence including many of his homilies, letters and theological works The most important being On the Holy Spirit which he wrote to prove the Divinity of the Holy Spirit.

St. Basil’s letters reveal a personality that was optimistic, tender and even playful at times, despite health problems, unrest in the Church.

Here is a link to a beautiful homily by St. Basil the Great on the Feast of the Epiphany which we celebrate on Sunday:

St. Basil’s friend St. Gregory Nazianzen became the bishop of Constantinople. St. Gregory won many hearts to the faith through his preaching. He preached so well that he made is enemies angry. A young man planned to kill him, but at the last moment repented of his sin and asked for Gregory’s forgiveness which he gave willingly.

44 of Gregory’s speeches and 243 letters and many of his poems are still in existence today. St. Gregory Nazianzen died in 390 at the age of 60.