It always seems to me that the Palm Sunday liturgy moves so quickly. At the entrance we’re acclaiming Jesus as king and yelling Hosanna, and then just minutes later we’re on Calvary wondering what happened. The good news is that today is only meant to be the introduction to what we will now commemorate solemnly…and more slowly…over the course of this upcoming week. Today’s homily gives a brief overview of the events of this special week we call “Holy Week.” God has much grace he wishes to give us over these sacred days. I pray that you will enter fully into these special celebrations which remind us what our faith is really all about.
Today’s celebration of the 5th Sunday of Lent comes directly between two great solemnities that fall during the Lenten season. On Thursday we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary. On this coming Wednesday we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day Mary consented to be the Mother of God and the Word became flesh for our salvation. Although Jesus is of course God from the first moment of his conception, the Scripture tells us that in his humanity he grew in wisdom and was obedient to his parents.
Like any child, Jesus would have picked up aspects of his character from the example of his parents. In today’s homily I consider some of the key virtues of the two great examples that would have helped Jesus to grow in wisdom. As we enter into Passiontide today, I believe that we can find many ways in which Jesus found the strength for these days in the example of his earthly parents. If we also want to have the strength to take up the cross each day in our life, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to do as he did and place ourselves between Joseph and Mary.
Hopefully, before we make a big decision we listen to advice from others. Even the Code of Canon Law requires Church officials to listen before they do certain things. But who do we listen to? The Church has traditionally given us three enemies to whom we should not listen: the world the flesh and the devil. What we should do is to follow the directions of God the Father in today’s gospel and listen to Jesus. Today’s homily considers Abraham as the model for listening to God and offers advice as to how we might become more like him.
Given a choice between war and peace, we would naturally choose peace. Yet sometimes, to maintain peace, we have to fight. Imagine what would happen if we refused to take a worldly enemy seriously and refused to fight simply because we preferred peace. Soon we would have neither peace nor freedom. Sometimes we have to fight. The same is true in the spiritual life. We have a real enemy that is going to fight against us whether we like it or not. We cannot simply sit complacent on the sidelines.
This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of the World War II battle of Iwo Jima. This fight is perhaps best known from the famous picture taken of the marines raising the American flag on the top of Mt. Suribachi. Here in Washington the picture has been made into a large sculpture which serves as the Marine Corp War Memorial. We all love to contemplate this great scene of final victory. Yet this victory came after great struggle and as the fruit of much training and discipline. Today’s homily speaks of how we can take a lesson from the marines to help each of us fight the good fight of Lent and plant our own flag of victory at Easter.
The disease of leprosy, is the sad context for our readings this weekend. This terrible disease was not only a painful physical milady, but also had serious social implications. We see in the readings how lepers had to stay away from the community and yell “unclean” if anyone came near. By highlighting the issue of leprosy, the Church on this last Sunday before Lent gives us a meditation on the very real effects of sin. Sin, like leprosy, makes our souls and often our bodies unwell. Likewise, because there is no private sin, it also has a communal effect, isolating us from God and our brothers and sisters.
Like the leper, we are called to acknowledge our sin and then come humbly and kneel before Jesus the divine physician. Jesus makes the leper clean. Through the Sacrament of Penance Jesus wishes to make us clean of our sin. This is not some figurative healing; in the Sacrament of Penance we are truly made clean. Notice in the gospel that Jesus does not invite the leper back into the community right away. If Jesus had simply chosen to ignore the disease then the leper would still be a leper and soon the entire society would be sick. Rather, Jesus first cleanses the leper and then invites him back. This Lent, let’s have the humility and courage of the leper to get right with God and neighbor. We too are meant to hear the words of Jesus, “Be made clean.”
Several years ago I was invited to receive knighthood in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This is an honor conferred by the Vatican and is a very big deal. However, I had a somewhat important reservation. The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of course have their origin from the Crusades. At the time I remember thinking, “Wait, weren’t the Crusades a bad thing? Aren’t we kind of embarrassed by the Crusades?” I decided I needed to do some learning about the Crusades, quickly.
In doing some internet searching I came across a book entitled “The New Concise History of the Crusades” by Thomas F. Madden. As providence would have it, Dr. Madden is the leading American expert on the Crusades. This was not a short book or a simple book, but I read it cover to cover. I’m so glad I did. Not only did Dr. Madden remove any doubts I had about accepting knighthood in the EOHSJ, but he actually made me proud of the Crusades and what our Catholics brothers and sisters had done almost a thousand years ago.
Yes, that’s right; not only should we not be ashamed of the Crusades, we should be very proud! If you don’t understand that yet, I urge you to do some research.
Recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama showed what happens when we speak from uninformed hearsay. In what must be the greatest factual error in the history of Crusade misinformation, he equated the defensive rescue mission of the Crusades with modern day Islamic terrorists who murder by the thousands those who refuse to convert to Islam. Making such a connection is grossly negligent; however, there is in fact a connection between the Crusades and modern Islamic jihad.
The Crusades were launched in response to the Islamic conquest of the day. Wealthy and comfortable Christians in Europe left their families and their fortunes, traveling hundreds of miles, to save their Christian brothers and sisters whom they had never met. Over a third of the Crusaders died and never returned home. If they did manage to to make it home, most were financially ruined, having spent their entire life’s fortune on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They did this not for land or glory, but for the physical salvation of their brothers and sisters and the spiritual salvation of their own souls.
It is true that some Crusaders did terribly sinful things. This happens in war. War is never good, but sometimes it is justified and even required of morally upright people. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” PeaceMAKERS: Peace doesn’t just happen; sometimes it has to be made. When Islamic terrorists began killing Christians, taking their homes, and desecrating the holy places a thousand years ago, Christians took up arms to stop the unjust aggression and to restore peace.
In the face of Islamic aggression a thousand years ago, the leader of the free world at the time, the Holy Father, formed a rescue mission while reminding the Crusaders, “Greater love has no man than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It was a noble, self-sacrificing, holy thing. In the face of far worse Islamic aggression today, the leader of the free world won’t even acknowledge that there is an unjust aggressor, told us not to “get on our high horse,” and then called our Christian ancestors terrorists.
I thought I would post some links to good articles about the Crusades, but happily I am finding that the internet is now filled with them today. Just do a search and you will find lots of helpful information. Crusade scholars have long bemoaned the fact that people are so uninformed and that there seemed to be no way to set things straight. In an amazing twist, President Obama’s comments might just be the spark that actually gets people to learn about the Crusades and stop being embarrassed.
Do you ever find yourself frustrated when trying to share your faith and the person you’re talking to just can’t seem to grasp it? You present evidence and testimony that, to you, seem irresistible. Sometimes even two people raised in the same house can wind up with one person firmly believing in Jesus and another indifferent. Why couldn’t Jesus have made his identity more obvious? He could have manifest himself in a way that no one would be able to miss. Why did he leave things so open to misunderstanding?
We find one perplexing example in today’s gospel. Jesus heals a leper, an event that surely would get people to believe in him. Yet, he tells the man to remain quiet and not tell anyone about the healing. What? If I were the messiah and my goal was to get everyone to accept me, then doing lots of public miracles seems to be a good place to start. Perhaps part of the answer is that Jesus continues the approach that, as God, he has used from the beginning of time. God does not impose himself on us in way we can’t refuse; rather he proposes. He gives us just enough and then allows for the free response of our will.
In this light, we can see why the centurion in today’s gospel is so impressive to Jesus. The Jews had been preparing for centuries for the coming of the messiah. Yet, when he came, many saw the signs he was doing and determined that he was possessed by a demon. The centurion heard about what Jesus was doing and made a conclusion not just about what Jesus could do (heal people), but about who Jesus is. He has authority. The centurion understood authority and Jesus has an authority that the centurion knows is far beyond this world. How can this gentile centurion “get it” when others miss it? What does he have that others don’t? Jesus gives us the answer…it’s faith.
There is something mysterious and supernatural about the response of the centurion. He understands not just things about Jesus, but intuits something deeper about who Jesus really is. As we go about trying to help people come to know Jesus, we should keep these stories in mind. It’s not about the crowds. Jesus sends crowds away. Crowds often misunderstand Jesus. We can present the truth about Jesus and people will reject it and not understand. But some, like the centurion, will respond with faith. While there is much practical work to be done in spreading the gospel, we can never lose sight of the fact that the primary work is on the level of grace. God is the primary worker. He is the one that ultimately proposes.
So as we go about sharing the good news, most especially don’t get discouraged with what seem to be the results. If we try to be “successful” in spreading the gospel we are doomed, as we always measure success on worldly terms. Mother Theresa offers what I think is the best advice. God calls us not to be successful, but to be faithful. So go out and make Jesus manifest; continue his epiphany. Perhaps not many will accept God’s proposal. No matter. Be faithful. Share your joy. God might just surprise you with a centurion when you least expect it.
You see them everywhere these days. Families with twenty or thirty kids. You could swear that last week at Mass John and Mary had only a dozen or so kids, but now they’re back this week and there are at least twenty! It’s not hard to figure out what is going on here. Clearly these are Catholics who have fallen into the rampant heresy of Rabbitism. It’s not their fault mind you. Rabbitism has only managed to gain hold because Catholics today are so piously obedient to Holy Mother Church that they insist on having more and more children out of fear for their eternal souls. All over you see people who just want to be good Catholics having dozens and dozens of children believing that their eternal salvation depends upon it. And we all know how preoccupied people are with their eternal salvation these days. It seems people will do almost anything to avoid going to hell.
Just when it seemed that there was no hope of ending this foul confusion, Pope Francis has today used the sacred office of the papacy to solemnly condemn Rabbitism once and for all. The official pronouncement came at some 30,000 feet above sea level on a plane returning to Rome from Manila in some unprepared off the cuff remarks given to a handful of reporters. As those familiar with the Church know, this is the present code language indicating that the Pope is about to make an infallible statement. At last the blessed words came thus:
“Some think that, and excuse the word, in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No, responsible parenthood.” (see full article)
Darkness is thus dispelled by new light and consciences everywhere are now more at ease. Those outside the Church might question what the Holy Father means by “responsible parenthood.” However, because of the incredible job that priests have done teaching Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body, all Catholics of course understand that “responsible parenthood” means avoiding all contraception, accepting children lovingly from God, and never allowing the selfish desire for material goods or status to tempt one to limit the size of one’s family.
So, faithful Catholics, you can in good conscience keep your families to a single dozen or so kids and need not fear for your salvation. Rabbitism is dead. Additionally, we can all be very grateful that the Holy Father has once again taken an often misunderstood issue and added such helpful clarity.
We all love stories. Sometimes stories are meant simply to entertain us, but stories are also an important means to make sense out of our life. Stories help put our present situation in a larger context. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah that had been promised in a story begun long ago. At Epiphany we see the three kings take their part in the story. In today’s homily, I focus not so much on the story of the kings but, rather, the story told by Isaiah that predicted their arrival centuries earlier.
In the first reading Isaiah is declaring that light is shining on Jerusalem and that the whole world is headed there with treasure. The problem with this is that it appeared not to be true at the time Isaiah spoke it. Jerusalem was a dump. The temple had been destroyed and God’s people were in exile in Babylon. In spite of this, Isaiah prophesies good news. He tells a story about the future, or the present really that they cannot see yet. He brings a message of hope and light to their present darkness.
Many times as a priest I have to do what Isaiah tries to do, to convince people in some present darkness that the light is just around the corner. The devil loves to have us believe the lie that our future is dim and that there is no hope. But this is a lie! How we feel about whatever present situation we are in depends very much on what story we choose to believe. At Christmas we celebrate that God loved us so much that he came in person to save us and will never leave us. Do you realize that’s the story you’re in?
The magi in the gospel today encounter Jesus and then, almost poetically, “return home by another route.” As we encounter Jesus today, what will we do? How we feel about where we’re at and where we’re going depends very much on what story we choose to believe we’re in.
One of the most cherished traditions of the Church year is celebrating Mass during the dark night of Christmas as we welcome the birth of the Light of the World. It is fitting the our Lord chose to be born at the darkest time of the year just as the light starts to grow brighter. There is much darkness in our world and in our lives. There is much from which we need to be saved. This is why the news of the angles is such good news, “A savior has been born!”
Yes, we have a savior that has come to shine light into our darkness. Yet, it is important to notice that the light that shines does not complete eliminate all darkness, nor does it show us everything of what our future holds. Rather than presenting himself as a bright irresistible light, Jesus comes under the light of a star, a sign so subtle that it was missed by even those most looking for it. Jesus will come at the end of time as the definitive king demanding obedience and placing all things under his rule. Yet, at that first Christmas he chose to come as a little baby, the most non-threatening way we can imagine.
Each day Jesus wants to come into our world. Are we afraid to let him in? Maybe we fear what he will ask or fear that we can’t live up to his expectations. Maybe we just selfishly want to be left alone to be lord of our own lives, even doubting that God really has our best interest at heart. Again the angel give us counsel, “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring tidings of great joy.” Jesus is asking us to accept him, to let him in. Do not be afraid to say yes to him! He is not going to present you with an irresistible offer, so don’t wait for one. Rather, right now he is shining his light on just the next step, light enough to lead. You needn’t worry about where the entire staircase leads, just following the light shining on the next step.
Saying yes to one little step at a time will lead you to the ultimate meaning of your life, to become a great saint. I’ve seen how this can work in my own family and God surely wants the same for you. Don’t be afraid to follow the subtle light of the star shining into your life. Like the three wise men, say yes and get ready for an amazing journey.