Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homily for Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Destruction of the Temple, the End of the World, Luke 21, 5-19

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867) by Francesco Hayez displayed in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Venice, Italy

As we come to the end of the liturgical year, the Church focuses our attention on the last things. The readings are more ominous with more apocalyptic language. They give us a warning of events that are yet to come.

The Gospel of Luke speaks to us of the Second Temple which was built in 515 BC. This Temple was a magnificent architectural achievement. The Jews were in awe of it. For them, it seemed to represent the enduring nature of the world. They could hardly believe such a place could ever be destroyed.

Jesus used the opportunity of preaching in the Temple to speak about the end of time. Jesus predicts “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." (Luke 21, 6)

Christ’s prophecy was literally fulfilled forty years later.  In 70 AD,  the Roman military commander and future Roman Emperor, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.  The Arch of Titus, in Rome, commemorates his victory over Jerusalem to this day.

The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, was present in Jerusalem when the Temple was destroyed. After describing the destruction of the countryside for ten miles surrounding the city, he recounted:

These Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the holy house itself. At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched some what out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there wion, passage to the rooms that were round about the holy house, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward, the Jews made a great clamor, such as so mighty an affliction required, and ran together to prevent it; and now they spared not their lives any longer, nor suffered anything to restrain their force, since that holy house was perishing...thus it was the holy house burnt down...Nor can one imagine anything greater or more terrible than this noise; for there was at once a shout of the Roman Legions, who were marching all together, and a sad clamor of the seditious, who were now surrounded with fire and sword... the people under a great consternation, made sad moans at the calamity they were under...Yet was the misery itself more terrible than the disorder; for one would have thoughtthat the hill itself, on which the Temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it. (Josephus, Antiquities xi. 1.2)

To give a detailed account of their outrageous conduct is impossible, but we may sum it up by saying that no other city has ever endured such horrors, and no generation in history has fathered such wickedness. In the end they brought the whole Hebrew race into contempt in order to make their own impiety seem less outrageous in foreign eyes, and confessed the painful truth that they were slaves, the dregs of humanity, bastards, and outcasts of their nation. ...It is certain that when from the upper city they watched the Temple burning they did not turn a hair, though many Romans were moved to tears. (Josephus, The Jewish War, p. 292)
Christ’s purpose in foretelling this event is not to satisfy the people’s curiosity, but to help them to keep faith when he is betrayed and turned over to evil men. After he rises and sends the Holy Spirit on his disciples, he will send them into the world. They will need to be strong to endure their own betrayals and persecution. God never wills evil to occur, but his power is so great that he can bring good out of evil.

Pope St. Leo the Great (ca. 400-461 AD) spoke of this when he said “Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.” The enemies of Christ and his Church may seem to triumph for a time, but Christ by his death and Resurrection has won the ultimate victory for life. We will experience that ultimate victory at the end of time.

The prophecy of the destruction of the Temple has a double meaning. It applies to the destruction of the Temple that occurred in 70 AD. It also applies to the destruction of the world at the end of time. While we will probably not live to see the end of time, everyone on this earth will eventually experience death. We need to prepare ourselves for eternity. Pope St. Leo the Great reminded us of the fleeting nature of the world:

Short and fleeting are the joys of this world's pleasures which endeavorsto turn aside from the path of life those who are called to eternity. The faithful and religious spirit, therefore, must desire the things which are heavenly, and being eager for the Divine promises, lift itself to the love of the incorruptible Good and the hope of the true Light.

In one of his letters St. John the Apostle says “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2, 15-17)

Given the fleeting nature of the world, some may be tempted to flee from the world and wait for the end to come, but the Church reminds us that we are not a sect fleeing the world, but a community of faith called to renew the world.

The Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes reminds us of this when it says:

We have been warned, of course, that it profits us nothing if we gain the whole world and lose or forfeit ourselves. Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectation of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress dearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society.

When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise - human dignity, sisterly and brotherly communion, and freedom - according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit, we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured, when Christ presents to his Father an eternal and universal kingdom "of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace." Here on earth the kingdom is mysteriously present; when the Lord comes it will enter into its perfection. (GS#39)

Some may have a more monastic or contemplative vocation, but even contemplatives need to pray for those in the world. Most of us are called to be in the world, to be its salt and light, and transform it according to God’s plan.

In 1976, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II attended a Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, PA. In his farewell address he said:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, the Gospel versus the anti-gospel. This confrontation lies within the plan of divine Providence; it is a trial which the whole Church must take up.

Thirteen years later in 1989, Pope John Paul II witnessed the fall of Communism in Poland and then in the rest of Eastern Europe, a fall that he helped to bring about.

Just as Communism fell in Eastern Europe, so also we can defeat the culture of death. In 2000, Pope John Paul II encouraged us not give in to

...that type of defeatist mentality which claims that laws opposed to the right to life - those which legalize abortion, euthanasia, sterilization and methods of family planning opposed to life and the dignity of marriage - are inevitable and now almost a social necessity. On the contrary, they are a seed of corruption for society and its foundations. The civil and moral conscience cannot accept this false inevitability, any more than the idea that war or interethnic extermination is inevitable.
  Therefore, the Pope reminded us

no effort should be spared to eliminate legalized crime or at least to limit the damage caused by these laws, but with the vivid awareness of theradical duty to respect every human being's right to life from conception until natural death, including the life of the lowliest and the least gifted.

The Pope urgently called for "a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life.” (EV#95)

Jesus warns us that there will be opposition and persecution as we seek to fulfill our mission in the world. He says this opposition may even come from family, friends or members of the Church, but we cannot and ust not be deterred. If we’re faithful to our mission, despite this opposition, we will the win the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4, 8) and like Christ we will rise, on the last day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pope St. Leo the Great, Deliver Us From the Culture of Death!

Above is a fresco of the Meeting between Pope St. Leo the Great and Attila the Hun in 452 A.D. by Raphael. The fresco is found in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

Pope St. Leo the Great was born circa 400 A.D. in Tuscany . He was the Pope from 440 to his death in 461 A.D. In 445, he persuaded Emperor Valentinian to recognize the Primacy of Rome. He clearly explained the doctrine of the Incarnation. His letter defending the Divinity of Christ was read at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

Many historians praised him for his diplomacy during the Barbarian invasions. In 452, Pope St. Leo met Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome and persuaded him not to pillage the city.

In 455, a Christian historian named Prosper wrote of the encounter “…for when the king had received the embassy, he was so impressed by the presence of the high priest that he ordered his army to give up warfare and, after he had promised peace, he departed beyond the Danube.”

According to legend, St. Peter and St. Paul could be seen dressed as bishops standing on each side of the Pope holding swords above Attila’s head threatening him with death if he didn’t heed the Pope's pleas to leave the city in peace.

Later, when the Vandals invaded Rome, Pope St. Leo persuaded their leader Geneseric to stop pillaging the city. He was a prolific writer, and many of his writings survive to this day.

Like ancient Rome, Western Civilization is threatened today by corruption within, the ravages of the culture of death – an anti-life mentality that manifests itself through abortion, contraception, sterilization, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. and threats of terrorism from the outside, although home-grown terrorism is also a growing threat.

We need the prayers and example of Pope St. Leo the Great to help us to turn back the barbarians in our time. Pope St. Leo defended life and used diplomacy to turn back the threat of terrorism.

Pope St. Leo the Great, assist us in the work of evangelization and the spread of the Gospel of Life. Help us to overcome the corruption of good morals in our times.  Give us courage to confront the culture of death. We pray that human life will be respected and protected at every stage of development.

Pope St. Leo the Great pray for us, that God will deliver us from the threat of war and terrorism. Grant us peace in our country and peace throughout the world. Help us to build a new culture of life and a civilization of love.  We ask this, and all our prayers, through Christ Our Lord, true God and true man. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Homily on the Resurrection of the Body Thirty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Luke 20-27-38

During the month of November, as we see things around us in nature die, the Church asks us to reflect on the mystery of life and death. The month began with the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Throughout this month we are asked to pray for the dead, especially our friends, family and benefactors. Everyone on this earth at some time will experience the loss of someone they love and their own death too.

In the Gospel today Jesus reminds us that the goal of our life is eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven. What I was taught as a child from the Old Baltimore Catechism still holds true today. We were created by God to love him and serve him in this life, and to share eternal happiness with him in the next.

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. At the end of time, our that our bodies and souls will be reunited. God, who made everything out of nothing, will remake our bodies perfect, immortal and indestructible.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body. On the contrary, the levitirate law required the brother of a deceased man who was childless to marry his brother’s widow. They confront Jesus with a theoretical case of a poor woman who married and then lost seven husbands. They ask him whose wife will she be at the Resurrection, since all seven married her. Their intention was to make the whole question, about life after death, seem ridiculous.

Jesus replies by explaining that in heaven the blessed will not marry as they do in this life, but instead will be like the angels. Jesus could have quoted numerous texts in Scripture to demonstrate the evidence of the resurrection of the body. In the Second Book of Maccabees, a young man is being tortured and killed because he refuses to transgress Jewish law and eat pork. He says to his murderer “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws." (2 Macc. 7, 9) Isaiah 26,19 says “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.” Daniel 12,2 says “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” However, the Sadducees only accepted the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible.

So Jesus meets them on their own ground by quoting from the Book of Exodus 3,6. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” If there was no life after death the Scripture would have said “I WAS the God of your father…” Instead, Jesus says “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” (Luke 20,38)

This gives us confidence that we will see our deceased relatives and friends again in the Kingdom of Heaven. At the same time, we recognize that while we’re here on earth we must serve the Lord and prepare ourselves and our loved ones for eternity.

The atheist Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the people” because he thought our belief in the resurrection led us to be unconcerned about establishing justice on this earth. On the contrary, our faith in the Resurrection should lead us to be more concerned about fighting injustice. In his encyclical on the Eucharist Pope John Paul II wrote “Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of “new heavens” and “a new earth” (Rev 21:1), but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today. I wish to reaffirm this forcefully at the beginning of the new millennium, so that Christians will feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God's plan. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia #20)

Our judgment will consist primarily how we treat those who are least among us. Special attention must be given in our times to fighting against the culture of death. Human life is not a commodity. God intended every human being to share everlasting happiness with him in heaven created. Thus every human life is precious. The image and likeness of God is present in every human being from the moment of conception, and must be respected till natural death. Only God can give life and only he has a right to take that life to himself.

If we put our faith in Christ, repent of our sins and work together to build a culture of life through our words, deeds and prayers, we will hear the words Jesus will address to the blessed at the end of time: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25, 34) If we are faithful to Christ and put his teachings into practice in our lives, we can be confident that we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We will see those we love again, and God will remake our bodies perfect, immortal and indestructible.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Homily for Easter Wednesday on Luke 24, 13-35

Rembrandt (1606-1669) The Supper at Emmaus. 1648. Oil on wood. Louvre, Paris, France

Jesus had twelve Apostles, but he also had many other followers whom he called disciples. Jesus walked with his two of these disciples, Cleopas and his companion, along the road to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. St. Mark alludes to this event in his Gospel which St. Luke recounts with more details.

The disciples are downhearted, because they believed Jesus would free them from the power of the Romans, and they think he remains dead. Jesus wanted to comfort them and bring them to true faith in him and then to be his witnesses. But as they walked along, the disciples did not recognize him.

Jesus gradually reveals the resurrection to them. First, he explains all that referred to him in the Scripture. He showed how the promised Messiah would have to suffer, but then die and rise again.

As Catholics, we believe that the Scripture is the inspired Word of God, but we must understand Scripture as the Church understands it. Before there was a New Testament, there was the Church. The Church encourages us to read Sacred Scripture. In fact, St. Jerome said “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

As they are fed with the Word, Cleopas and his companion have new and lasting hope. Jesus pretends to continue along the road, but his disciples plead with him by saying “Stay with us.” Still, they don’t recognize him. It is only when he took the bread, blessed and broke it that the disciples recognized Jesus. The “breaking of the bread” was a term the early Christians used to describe the Eucharist.

At every Mass, Catholics have an experience similar to these disciples. First, we are fed with the Word of God. Then we are fed with the Eucharist in which we receive Jesus in his body, blood, souls and divinity.

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives. (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 11). It is the source, because Jesus says “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15, 5). He also says “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood. You have no life in you” (John 6:53).

The Eucharist is the summit, because there is no more perfect union with Jesus which we can experience on this earth than receiving him in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus says “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (John 6, 56).

The Eucharist is a pledge of eternal life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist worthily, he helps to separate us from sin, cleanses us of venial sins, strengthens virtue, prevents future mortal sins, renews, strengthens and deepens our incorporation into the Church – Christ’s Mystical Body, compels us to work for unity among Christians and commits us to the poor. The most vulnerable of the poor are the unborn babies, whose lives are not respected, or protected, and are threatened by the violence of abortion. The Eucharist should commit us to building a culture of life, and protecting human life at all stages of development and conditions.

The disciples were strengthened through the Word which Jesus explained to them. They recognized Jesus in the “breaking of the bread”. Now they return to Jerusalem to let the Eleven remaining Apostles know what has happened. When we leave the Mass we go into the world. We should seek opportunities to tell people what God has done for us, and what happens at every Mass, when we have an opportunity to be fed by the Word of God, to be united with Our Lord and Savior in the Eucharist and to receive him who is our pledge of eternal life.

Homily for Easter Tuesday on John 20, 11-18

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-c.1319) Maestà. Noli Me Tangere (1308-11) Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy

Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus draws her to the tomb of Jesus while it is still dark. She discovers that the stone has been rolled away and assumes his body is stolen. She runs to tell Peter and John, they come and see the empty tomb and the burial cloths rolled up neatly. If someone were to rob the grave why would they roll up the burial cloths? Peter and John begin to believe what Jesus had told them about his rising from the dead, but they’re still not sure and so they go home.

Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb weeping. Psalm 34, 19 says “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, saves those whose spirit is crushed.” The monks of the Eastern Church pray for gift of tears. For them it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is alive in their hearts, convicting them of sin and inspiring them to a deeper love and devotion to God.

The first Psalm priests are called to recite each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours is Psalm 95 which contains the words “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert.” Hardness of heart is the greatest obstacle to living an authentic spiritual life.

As Mary is weeping, Jesus begins to reveals himself to her by saying “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Thinking he was the gardener, Mary asks Jesus where he has laid the body. His glorified body appeared different to her. His body was now glorious, immortal and indestructible.

When Jesus calls her by name she recognizes him.She must have begun to hug him since she was so overjoyed, but Jesus says “Do not cling to me. For I have not yet ascended to my Father.”

St. Thomas Aquinas says that Mary had some faith. She calls him by the Hebrew word "Rab-bo'ni" (which means teacher), but she had not yet come to understand that Jesus was equal to the Father and one with God.

St. John Chrysostom says that Mary thought that Jesus was simply in the same state as before his Passion. She thought he was simply resuscitated, still subject to death and would continue life just as before. To correct this impression, Christ says “Do not cling to me. For I have not yet ascended to my Father. St. John says “It was like saying: Although you see me remaining here, it is not because my flesh is not glorified but because I have not yet ascended to my Father. For before he ascended he wanted to strengthen in the hearts of the apostles their faith in his resurrection and in his divinity.”

Jesus then gives Mary a mission to tell his brothers to go before him to Galilee where they will see him. He calls them brothers even though most of them had abandoned him in his darkest hour. He says to tell them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." He says this because Jesus is the Son of God by nature, whereas we are sons and daughters of God by adoption.

Mary does as Jesus says and tells the Apostles “I have seen the Lord!” Anyone who has a true encounter with the Living Lord in faith will have a need to tell others. They can’t contain themselves. They don’t need to be told to evangelize. Pray that like Mary God will open our hearts that we may be truly sorry for all our sins and that we may have an encounter with the Living Christ in the sacraments. Then, like St. Mary Magdalene, we can lead others to Jesus so that they can experience his love and forgiveness too.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Homily for Easter Monday on Matthew 28, 8-15

Giotto(c. 1267-1337) The Resurrection 1304-1306. Fresco. Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy

Scripture tells us "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is not believing things that are contrary to reason, but above and beyond reason. The Christian faith is based on events that actually happened, from the testimony of eye-witnesses whom we believe to be trustworthy.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an historical fact and the chief object of the Christian faith. That is why St. Augustine writes: "It is no great thing to believe that Christ died; for this is something that is also believed by pagans and Jews and by all the wicked: everyone believes that He died. The Christians' faith is in Christ's resurrection; that is what we hold to be a great thing--to believe that He rose" ("Enarrationes in Psalmos", 120).

If anyone could ever prove that the Resurrection did not happen it would completely undermine the Christian faith. St. Paul says:
…if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith...and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1Cor. 15, 13-19).

The Gospel reports that it was women who were the first witnesses. This is remarkable since in first-century Palestine a woman’s testimony was considered worthless and they weren’t even able to be witnesses in a Jewish court of law. If the story was really invented why choose women to the first witnesses?

The attempt by the chief priests to cover up the facts of the Resurrection only reinforced that there was an empty tomb and a missing body. They try to say that the disciples had taken the body, but St. Matthew reports earlier in his Gospel that the disciples had fled Jerusalem.

These same Apostles, who a few days earlier fled in fear, would later become courageous and tireless preachers of the Resurrection after they saw Jesus, touched him and ate and drank with him.

St. Paul says:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15, 3-9).

By his resurrection, Christ proved his Divinity. He was not simply raised, but that He rose by His own power. Jesus said: 'I lay down My life, that I may take it again ....I have power to lay it down: and I have power to take it up again' (John 10:17-18). He also told the Jewish leaders " 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up' (John 2:19-20).

When Christ rose from the dead, it was not a return to his previous earthly existence. His body appeared as it had to his disciples at the time of the Transfiguration. His body is now glorious, immortal and indestructible. Christ’s body shares in the glory he had from the beginning, when he was present with the Father before Creation.

Christ's resurrection completed the work of our Redemption. By his death, Jesus freed us from sins, but by his resurrection he restored us all that we had lost through sin and opened for us the gates of eternal life (cf. Romans 4:25).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the source of hope for all Christians. May the Lord strengthen our faith in this central mystery of our faith. May our faith inspire us to a greater love of God and neighbor. Pray that through our deep faith in the Resurrection we may radiate this hope to others who are in despair.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Good Friday Homily

Giotto. The Crucifixion. 1304-1306. Fresco. Capella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy.

Jesus, the author of life, was led away to die, but his death brought about a different result than his enemies intended. By his death he destroyed the power of death. Condemned, though he was innocent, he accepted the punishment our sins deserved.

In the Book of Isaiah, written about 700 years before Christ, we read a prophecy of the future suffering of Jesus “… he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53, 5)

Though he was without sin, Jesus took upon Himself the burden of our sins and allowed Himself to be led to the slaughter like a lamb. Oppressed and afflicted, he did not open His mouth to defend Himself against His aggressors. (cf. Isaiah 53, 7)

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuits, urges us to meditate for a week on the Passion of Christ. He realized that all our ambition to become holy, is only as valuable as our willingness to carry the cross. If we are going to follow in Christ’s footsteps, striving to become holy like Him, we’ve got no other option. We then must be willing to carry our cross in union with Him.

From the cross, Jesus gave us the gift of his mother when he said to St. John the Apostle “Behold, your mother.” In May, I will visit Ephesus, Turkey and see what is believed to be the reconstruction of the house the Blessed Virgin Mary lived in, after St. John the Apostle took her there for safety, after a persecution of Christians in Jerusalem in the First Century. It is believed that Mary had the Stations of the Cross marked out with stones a short distance from her house.

Most people would rather forget the most painful and traumatic events of their lives, but Mary often reflected on the events of her life and the events of the life of her Divine Son in her heart. She wanted to remember not only the most joyful moments, but also the depth of Christ’s love for her and the whole world by the suffering he endured on the cross.

Our modern world sees no value in suffering. It does everything it can to avoid, deny or anesthetize suffering regardless of the moral consequences. When the movie “The Passion” came out a few years ago, some condemned it as too morbid. It shocked people by the reality of the horrors of the scourging and crucifixion.

The Romans saw the cross as a sign of infamy. They used it to torture and kill those they regarded as criminals. Mere killing wasn’t enough. The lifting of the body from the earth was itself an insult, as if to say the condemned person was not worthy to walk the face of the earth. But Jesus predicted “When I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself.” (John 12, 32)

Jesus used an instrument of torture, mockery and death to win for us the gift of eternal life. In the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, also called the Church in the Modern World, the Church teaches:

…whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury.(GS #27)
Thus, those who condemned him, spit at him, beat him and killed him did more harm to themselves than they did to Jesus.

There is no other path to glory except through the cross. It is through the cross that God teaches us that he is able to draw good out of every human tragedy. What seemed like a victory for Satan, was actually his defeat. What bad men willed for evil God has drawn the greatest good, the gift of our eternal salvation. This is also a great consolation for us who seek to defeat the culture of death and build a culture of life. Death will not have the last word. Just as surely as the Resurrection followed Good Friday, a culture of life will supplant a culture of death.

The whole of Jesus’ life was directed to this one supreme moment when he would demonstrate his love and obedience to the Father and his love for all humankind, by making of himself a sacrificial offering to pay the price for our sins.

In the year 565, a young Italian poet who would later become St. Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers, undertook a grueling pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Martin of Tours after being miraculously cured of a disease of his eye. As he traveled he witnessed many signs of material and cultural decay due to the collapse of the Roman Empire. He probably could not have imagined the glorious Catholic civilization that would arise in Europe in the High Middle Ages. Despite the signs of decay all around him, he didn’t lose hope and he wrote a hymn that is still sung in the Liturgy of the Hours today which begins:

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where He in flesh, our flesh Who made,
Our sentence bore, our ransom paid.
In the passion story according to St. John, the last words that Jesus said on the cross before he bowed his head and died is "It is finished" (John 19:30). In the original Greek it is just one word, tetelestai.

Scholars were able to give us more insight into the meaning of this expression a few years ago after some archaeologists in the Holy Land dug up a tax collector's office that was almost completely intact. Even the tax records were preserved. One of two stacks of tax records had the word tetelestai written on top. The word tetelestai in this context meant that these people didn’t owe any more tax. They were "paid in full."

Jesus used the language of business to speak of our relationship to God and neighbor. The Jews thought of sin as a debt that we owe to God that must be repaid in some way. Since everything we have comes from God, there is no way we could have ever paid the price for our own sins. Thus God himself had to take on our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and offer himself up as an innocent Lamb to pay the price of our sins.

When he uttered the words “It is finished” or tetelestai was a cry of victory. His mission had been accomplished and the debt we incurred because of our sins had been paid in full.

This is why Mary never wanted to forget what Jesus endured for us on the cross. This is why St. Ignatius as well as so many other saints, throughout the ages, have urged us to meditate on Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why we call this Friday “Good”!

Don’t be afraid of the cross. The cross is the door to paradise. We need to meditate often on the suffering and death of Jesus. Every Catholic home should have a crucifix in a prominent place. Some families have a crucifix in every room. We should meditate often on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, read the accounts of Christ’s Passion from the Bible and make the Stations of the Cross.

We should contemplate Jesus dying to make the full payment for our sins. We must respond to the love Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross by our willingness to make sacrifices for his sake.

Jesus calls us today to take up our cross and follow him. He calls us to die to our former life of sin and live a new life based on his teaching of the Gospel. He calls us to put our love for God and neighbor above our attachment to the things of this world, to be zealous in our proclamation of the Gospel, to build up his Kingdom and to create a new culture of life. With St. Paul we should be able to say “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Galatians 2, 19-20)

We should continually give thanks to him who gave his life to make full payment for the immeasurable debt we owe to God and opened up for us the gates of paradise.

(Homily Given by Fr. Peter West, Associate Director of Priests For Life on Good Friday April 2, 2010 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Bremerton, Washington.)

Friday, February 05, 2010

St. Agatha and the Link between Breast Cancer and Abortion

St. Peter Healing St. Agatha c. 1614 painted by Giovanni Lanfranco now in the Galleria Nazionale in Parma, Italy

St. Agatha was born in either Catania or Palermo, Sicily around the year 230. She was martyred around the year 253 as a young virgin during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius (240-253). The name Agatha means good or virtuous. Very little is known about her life, but according to legend she was a beautiful woman from a wealthy family. She was consecrated to God at an early age and made a vow of virginity in order to dedicate her life to Christ.

In January 250, The Roman Emperor Decius issued an edict for the suppression of Christianity. Everyone was required to sacrifice to the Roman gods before public officials by a certain day 'for the safety of the empire'.

Hoping to take advantage of this persecution, Quinctianus, a local magistrate who hated Christians, tried to blackmail Agatha into sexual relations with him in exchange for not charging her as a Christian. When Agatha refused his advances, Quinctianus had her beaten and handed over to an evil woman called Aphrodisia who ran a house of prostitution with her six daughters. Agatha remained chaste and steadfast in her Christian faith. One month later Quinctianus offered her freedom, but she said “to be a servant of Christ is to be truly free.” She boldly addressed Quinctianus saying:

My courage and my thought be so firmly founded upon the firm stone of Jesus Christ, that for no pain it may not be changed; your words be but wind, your promises be but rain, and your menaces be as rivers that pass, and how well that all these things hurtle at the foundation of my courage, yet for that it shall not move

She also attacked the Roman cult images as idols. Quinctianus then had her tortured by crushing her breasts and cutting them off. St. Agatha reproached him saying “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?”

St. Peter appeared to her in a vision to comfort her, console her and heal her. Despite the miracle, Quinctianus failed to repent and ordered her to be rolled naked on a bed of live coals mixed with broken pottery.

A violent earthquake shook the ground and part of a wall fell on and killed Silvain, a counselor of Quinctianus and his friend Fastion. Both of them exhorted Quinctianus to torture St. Agatha.

The people of Catania were frightened. They believed the earthquake was a punishment from God for the sin of the torture of St. Agatha. Quinctianus fearing a revolt by the people, stopped his torture. St. Agatha was sent back to prison where she died of her wounds just a few hours later on February 5. With her last breath she said "Lord my Creator, you have always protectd me from my cradle; you have taken me from the love of the world and given me patience to suffer. Now receive my soul."

One year after her death the volcano Mount Etna erupted and lava began to flow towards the city of Catania. The people of Catania ran to St. Agatha’s tomb, held up her red veil and prayed to God through her intercession that the city be spared. The lava stopped, saving the people and the city.

St. Agatha is a patron saint of those who suffer from breast cancer and sexual assault. Many people also ask her intercession against fires and natural disasters.

We should pray to St. Agatha for all women who suffer breast cancer and that women will be told the truth about the most preventable causes of breast cancer. In 2007, 40,910 women were projected to die of breast cancer in the United States. In 2004, 519,000 women died from breast cancer worldwide.

While most cancers have declined in the past 30 years, breast cancer has increased in the United States by an alarming 40%. During this time there have been dramatic changes in the lifestyles of most women. This includes an explosion in the numbers of abortions, delayed child bearing and the use of powerful hormones for birth control.

Many scientists now acknowledge that an abortion before a first live birth increases the risk of breast cancer. Some studies also show an increased risk of cancer due to the birth control pill which works by increasing the amount of the hormone estrogen.

While these findings remain controversial almost all cancer researchers acknowledge that delaying childbirth definitely increases the risk of breast cancer. In 2003, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons called on doctors to inform patients about a"highly plausible" relationship between abortion and breast cancer.

But unfortunately, as we have seen in the global warming debate, politics often trumps good science. The National Cancer Institute has been a leader in trying to suppress the truth about the abortion-breast cancer link. But now, Louise A. Brinton, the person most responsible for convincing the agency to deny the link now acknowledges that abortion has co-authored a study which concludes that abortion is a “known risk factor” for breast cancer.

The study appeared in the April, 2009 issue of the prestigious journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. The study confirms an earlier study from 1996 by Janet Daling, who considers herself “pro-choice”. Daling found that abortion increases a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer from between 20 to 50 percent.

In two other similar studies in China and Turkey also showed a statistically significant relationship between abortion and breast cancer.

The study also showed that women with a family history of breast cancer who had abortions as teenagers increased their risk of getting breast cancer by 80 percent. This is a approximately 30,000 to 50,000 teenagers with a history of breast cancer in their family obtain abortions every year.

The Susan B. Komen Foundation raises awareness about the scourge of breast cancer. Komen should be a leader in informing women about the link between abortion and breast cancer. However, Komen not only denies the link, but gives money to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion business in the United States.

Yet, despite the fact that this study was published ten months ago, The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and other organizations supposedly dedicated to raising awareness about cancer have failed to warn women of the link between abortion and breast cancer.

Let’s ask the intercession of St. Agatha that women will be told the truth will be told about the relationship between breast cancer and abortion, the birth control pill and that we will overcome the scourge of breast cancer.

For more information on the link between breast cancer and abortion see the websites of The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute and the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.