Archive for the ‘Divinization’ Category

The Cardinal, the Angel, and Us — Funeral Homily for Joan Johnson, 88

July 12, 2022

By Fr. Victor Feltes

A Christian life like Joan’s contains many good memories. No funeral homily could recount them all. Today, I would like highlight two family stories from Joan’s life which connect the past and the present and point to our shared future. Did you know that a cardinal has visited St. Paul’s and that an angel been seen in this church? Their appearances were as characters in Christmas pageants when Joan’s beloved grandchildren were both students attending our grade school.

One year, little’s Casie role in the Christmas play was a bird, specifically a cardinal. Hers was a minor role, but grandma made her a major costume. Joan’s daughters, Debra and Terri, recall Casie in that great, red plumage, molting feathers as she walked down this aisle. At another Christmas pageant, McKenzie’s role was to be a little angel. Her mother had prepared a fine costume (which would prove to be only a first draft). When Joan saw it, she didn’t say anything. Joan has a sweet disposition, she is quiet, patient, and no complainer, but Joan desired greater glory for her beloved and set to work. The next day, McKenzie’s angel wings were significantly bigger than they were before.

Those stories connect the past to the present. Joan’s family still has that big, little angel costume, and Joan’s granddaughters, Casie and McKenzie, have grown up to be the lectors reading at her funeral at St. Paul’s Church today. These stories also point to our shared future as well. Our first reading from the Prophet Daniels foretells, “At that time… those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” In our Gospel, Jesus reechoes his plan: “The hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.”

Joan loves her family with a likeness to how Jesus Christ loves his. He is patient, he is kind. He is slow to anger and not a grumbler. But his intense desire is for our greater glory and he has set to work. Christ’s will is not to merely change our clothes but to transform us, not to make us birds or angels (for we shall always be human creatures) but to make us godlike, saints sharing in his resurrected glory.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities… that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Today we pray for Joan, that her fully-purified soul may enter God’s unveiled presence, and — seeing him as he is — she shall be like him, a glorious saint, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. Never forget and do not doubt that the Lord desires the same for you. Christ calls you to possess his holiness. Jesus calls you to share his glory.

Why Did Jesus Go?

May 29, 2022

The Ascension
By Fr. Victor Feltes

This week, our Catholic school celebrated our eighth graders’ graduation with a Mass and an awards ceremony. Afterwards, while the graduates were having their pictures taken, a teacher and I stood off to the side, looking on. He remarked, “It’s sad to see them go.” I replied, “Yeah, but it would be even sadder if they stayed.

Just whimsically imagine remaining an eighth grader well into your twenties. You don’t have a full-time job because you’re a full-time student without a high school degree. Of course you’re unmarried and have no kids—you’re still in middle school! And sure, after a decade of eighth grade, having had the same lessons over and over, you could ace all of your homework and tests (if you still had any motivation left to do so) but you would not be learning very much. It is bittersweet to see our graduates go forth from us, but it is better that they go. Though in one sense they are leaving us, they are not really gone. Yet this departure is necessary for them to reach their full human maturity and to fulfill God’s plans for their glory.

Today we celebrate Jesus’ bodily ascension into Heaven. The traditional day for celebrating the Ascension is forty days after Easter, which was last Thursday, or “Ascension Thursday.” Our diocese, like most dioceses in our country, transfers this celebration to this Sunday. I guess we like keeping Jesus around longer. But seriously, the ascension of Jesus into heaven raises this question: “Why did he go? Why didn’t Jesus stay?

Now Jesus does tell us, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst.” He says, “Behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.” And he is truly present for us in the Holy Eucharist. But Jesus’ presence now remains invisible or veiled to our eyes. By bodily ascending and disappearing into the clouds Jesus is visibly departing from us until he comes again with a glory manifested to all. “But I tell you the truth,” he says, “it is better for you that I go.” Why is this better? What would it be like if Jesus dwelt among us throughout the centuries like he did with his disciples those forty days, walking with them and talking with them, following his Resurrection?

There is no physical reason why Jesus could not have done this. His risen body is a glorified body no longer subject to injury or death, so that’s not the reason he did not remain. Did he go because on earth he’s reduced to being in one particular place, or limited in how much he can see, know, or do? Remember, Jesus is not merely human but divine, all-knowing and all-powerful, and his bi-locating saints (such as Venerable Mary of Ágreda or St. Padre Pio) who have manifested the miracle of being more than one place at once surely do not possess any supernatural ability which Jesus lacks.

So God the Father could have chosen “by his own authority” for his Son to remain visibly active here with us, in one, or thousands, or millions of locations at once, throughout the centuries up to our day. Jesus could be the pastor in every parish, the teacher in every classroom, the doctor in every hospital, and the leader in every country. He is the perfect priest, the best teacher, the greatest healer, and the rightful ruler of all. Who is better-qualified than Jesus to do any of these things? Nobody. People would demand this of him and resent him for not doing it. But if Jesus were visibly present and doing everything, then we would be left doing very little.

Would it be a better world if Jesus personally did everything? In some ways, yes. Earth would be closer to paradise in many respects. But would this lead to more souls being saved? I’m not so sure. Adam and Eve lived in an earthly paradise, too, before they fell. And the glory of Christ being manifested to the world in an undeniable way might gain peoples’ submission, but not necessarily their conversion or love. The demons who fell had no doubts about God’s existence and yet they chose to disobey him as far as they were able.

If Jesus did everything of importance on earth without us, one result which seems evident to me is that we would remain in an unending adolescence, like someone attending the eighth grade well into their adulthood. This is why it was better for us that Jesus ascended. We are children of God called to what St. Paul calls “the stature of the fullness of Christ.” If everything which matters were just Jesus’ job to handle, how would we grow from our immaturity into the full maturity of Christ?

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the (Holy Spirit) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” By the Holy Spirit, the Church (which is Christ’s Body) is animated in this world. As members of his body we are moved by the Holy Spirit to love and to work united with Christ, growing more into his likeness and glory along the way. Would Jesus not ascending into heaven, remaining constantly here on earth and doing everything without us, have been easier than this present Christian life of ours? Perhaps, but Jesus desires that we would graduate with him to higher things and ascend to a greater glory with himself.

Our Glorious Friends

October 31, 2020

Solemnity of All Saints

The saints who have died are not dead – they are more alive than we are now. The human saints in Heaven lived in times past, but they were made of the same stuff and faced similar struggles then as you and I today. Though the Catholic Church has canonized thousands of saints, when you consider the billions of Christians throughout history canonizations are relatively rare, yet there are more saints in Heaven than we can count. We know this because of St. John’s Revelation of Heaven: “I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” The Lord Jesus Christ wants you to be in that number. Unfortunately, common misconceptions about saints can keep us further from them. So, in this homily, I would like to help you to grow closer to them in friendship and in likeness.

First realize that the saints are not dead and gone but still living. This is why whenever I preach about the deceased I try to speak of them using the present tense whenever some fact about them remains true. For instance, if a kind and generous Christian father of three dies he is still a kind and generous father of three. Rather than saying “his name was David,” faithfully witness that “his name is David” even after he has died. Though deprived of their bodies for the moment, those who are in Heaven are more alive than we are here. There they experience God opening himself to them an inexhaustible way. This is called the beatific vision, an ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion. The saints in Heaven see God face to face, and they have become like him for they see him as he is.

What is a glorified human being or exulted human nature like? Let’s consider the Blessed Virgin Mary. How much does she know us? How much does she love us? Does she hear each one of our prayers addressed to her? It is our sense of the Faith that our spiritual mother does indeed know us and loves us individually as her children. But consider this: if every Catholic in the world offers one Hail Mary a day, this means an average of more than fifteen thousand new prayers come her way each second. Therefore, if Mary hears all our prayers, her experience of time and/or the capacity of her glorified consciousness must far surpass our own.

The other glorified saints in Heaven, our brothers and sisters in Christ, know and care about you too. They understand you because they’ve walked in our shoes. Governments and borders and technologies change over time, but human nature is constant. The saints began with the same humanity as you and I, experienced challenges like our own, and prevailed. Lots of canonized saints have been priests, nuns, bishops, popes, or martyrs, but Heaven is certainly not limited to these backgrounds. Saints come from varied walks of life. Some canonized saints did extraordinary miracles or had visions here on earth, but even for these most of their days were ordinary, spent faithfully doing very ordinary things like us.

The saints in Heaven are our friends who lend us constant aid even if we do not know their names yet. In response, I encourage you to befriend them back. Which ones? Try doing this holy experiment: ask Jesus to introduce you to a saint and then keep your eyes open. Watch for a saint to providentially present him or herself to you, perhaps through an icon, a painting, or a photograph, a book or a film, or mentioned in a conversation thereafter. I look forward to hearing whom you’ll meet. Take these saints as teachers you learn from, role models you imitate, heroes to inspire you, and holy intercessors whose prayers before God for you are very powerful. I urge you to follow the saints, because those who follow them will embody the beatitudes, become more like Jesus, and become saints themselves.

Though it is unlikely any of us here will be officially canonized by the Church, we are all called to be saints. You are called to be a saint. St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” Do not say, “I have too sinful of a past to become a saint.” Recall that St. Paul had once persecuted Christians. There is no saint without a past and no sinner without a future. And do not say, “I’m too imperfect to become a saint.” Realize that even while St. Peter was serving as the first pope he sometimes made personal mistakes in his ministry. And do not say, “I’m too late in my life to become a saint.” Remember how the Good Thief on his cross next to Jesus made the most of the time he had left. As St. John Paul the Great preached, “Become a saint, and do so quickly.” Jesus is calling you to be a saint, so befriend the saints and they will help you on the way to Heaven.

A Glorious Lady in Heaven

August 15, 2014

Like Dante’s Divine Comedy, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce takes a first-person tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante had a next-worldly guide in the Roman poet Virgil, while Lewis had the Scottish author George MacDonald. While on the Plains of Heaven, Lewis beholds the following (abridged) scene:

Some kind of procession was approaching us, and the light came from the persons who composed it.  First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever again grow sick or old. Between them went musicians; and after these a lady in whose honor all this was being done. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

“Is it?…  Is it?” I whispered to my guide.

“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of.  Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?”

“Aye. She is one of the great ones.  Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”

“They are her sons and daughters.”

“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”

“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”

“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”

“No.  There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives. It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”

3 Myths / 3 Mitos — 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 6, 2011

Many today assume three modern myths: One, that we get into Heaven based on whether our good works out-weigh our sins. Two, that as long as we claim Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior we are assured Heaven. And three, that one Christian church is just as good as another. Let us consider these common myths one by one, and come to understand the truth about Christianity.

If you ask people whether they think they’ll go to Heaven, many say something like this, “I’m a pretty good person. I mean I’ve never robbed any banks or killed anybody. I’ve done good things, so yeah, I think I’ll go to Heaven.” In their minds, such people seem to envision the Last Judgment as a giant scale, with their good deeds on one side and their sins on the other.

The truth is, we cannot earn our own salvation. God is all good and deserving of all our love. When we do good we are just giving Him what He deserves. But when we sin, we disfigure ourselves and our relationship with God in ways that only He can repair. “…All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” But thanks be to God, we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus…. What occasion is there then for boasting?” asks St. Paul. “It is ruled out.” We do not save ourselves. We are saved only through Jesus Christ.

Many Christians like to ask, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior?” Do not hesitate to answer “Yes,” for every time you receive Him worthily in the Eucharist you are accepting Him as your Savior and Lord. Evangelical Christians also like to ask, “Are you saved?” They say this because they think whoever professes faith in Christ is assured of their salvation. However, according to Jesus, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Think of it this way: the demons recognize that Christ is Christ, but that does not save them. They are not saved because they do not love Him, and love is about more than just words. As Jesus told His Apostles, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” (Jn 14:15, 15:12)

Consider the New Testament words of St. James, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14) As St. Paul observes, “If I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” Our salvation in Christ requires faith and love in action.

We know that more than a few Catholics have wandered away from the Church. Some have been drawn away, after being told the Catholic Church does not know the Bible. Others have simply left, thinking that one Christian church is just as good as another. Do not be misled by myths.

In truth, Jesus Christ has built only one house, one Church. And, being a wise man, he built the house on a rock, St. Peter, our first Pope. However, men have built other houses. These Christian denominations have many good characteristics from the one Church of Christ: like Scripture, prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, baptism, marriage, and Christian morals. However, in time, the rains fall, the floods come, and the winds blow and buffet their houses and they collapse ruined. Those houses separate from the truth and separate from within into new houses. Therefore, never abandon the beliefs and the sacraments of the Catholic Church. There is one true house of Jesus Christ. Do not be misled by myths.

Muchos hoy aceptan tres mitos modernos: Uno, que entramos en el cielo si nuestras buenas obras son más que de nuestros pecados. Dos, si nos declararía Jesucristo como nuestro Señor personal y Salvador estamos seguros de entrar en el cielo. Y tres, que una iglesia Cristiana es tan buena como la otra. Consideremos estos mitos populares uno por uno y comprender la verdad acerca del cristianismo.

Si se pregunta a las personas si piensan que van a ir al cielo, muchos dicen algo como esto, “Soy una persona buena bastante. Yo nunca he robado al banco ni matado a nadie. He hecho cosas buenas, entonces sí, creo que voy a ir al cielo.” Estas personas imaginan el juicio final para ser una escala gigante, con sus buenas acciones en un lado y sus pecados en el otro.

La verdad es que no podemos ganar nuestra propia salvación personal. Dios es el sumo bien y digno de ser amado sobre todas las cosas. Cuando hacemos bueno sólo damos lo que se merece Dios. Pero cuando pecamos, nos hacemos daño a nosotros mismos sino a nuestra relación con Dios in maneras que solo Dios puede reparar. “Como todos pecaron, todos están privados de la presencia salvadora de Dios; pero todos son justificados gratuitamente por su gracia, en virtud de la redención llevada a cabo por medio de Cristo Jesús… por medio de la fe.” “¿Dónde, pues, quede el orgullo del hombre ante Dios,” pregunta de San Paulo. “Queda eliminado!” Nosotros no ganamos nuestra salvación por nosotros mismos. Somos salvados sólo a través de Jesucristo.

A veces otros cristianos nos preguntan, “Has aceptado a Jesucristo como tu Señor personal y Salvador?” No duden en responder “Sí”, porque cada vez que le reciban dignamente en la Eucaristía  lo aceptan como su Salvador y Señor.  Nuestros amigos cristianos evangélicos también quieren preguntar, “¿Eres salvado?” Dicen porque piensan que la person que profesa la fe en Cristo se asegura su salvación. Sin embargo, según Jesús, “No todo el que me diga ‘Señor, Señor!’, entrará en el Reino de los cielos, sino el que cumpla la voluntad de mi Padre, que está en los cielos.”

Consideren esto: los demonios reconocen que Cristo es Cristo, pero no los salva. No se salva porque ellos no lo aman, y amor es más que decir palabras. Como Jesús les dijo a sus apóstoles, “Si ustedes me aman, obedecerán mis mandamientos. … Mi mandamiento es este: Que se amen unos a otros como yo los he amado a ustedes.”

Consideren las palabras del Nuevo Testamento de San Santiago, “Hermanos míos, ¿de qué le sirve a uno decir que tiene fe, si sus hechos no lo demuestran? ¿Podrá acaso salvarlo esa fe? Supongamos que a un hermano o a una hermana les falta la ropa y la comida necesarias para el día; si uno de ustedes les dice: ‘Que les vaya bien; abríguense y coman todo lo que quieran’, pero no les da lo que su cuerpo necesita, ¿de qué les sirve? Así pasa con la fe: por sí sola, es decir, si no se demuestra con hechos, es una cosa muerta.” Como San Pablo observa, “Si tengo la fe necesaria para mover montañas, pero no tengo amor, no soy nada.” Nuestra salvación en Cristo requiere fe y amor en acción.

Sabemos que más que unos católicos pocos han vagado de la Iglesia Católica. Algunos son atraídos, oyen falsamente que la Iglesia Católica no conoce la Biblia. Otros simplemente dejaron, piensan falsamente que una iglesia cristiana es tan buena como la otra. No se engañen por mitos.

En verdad, Jesucristo ha construido sólo una casa, una iglesia. Y, siendo un hombre sabio, construyó la casa sobre una roca, San Pedro, nuestro primer Papa. Pero, hombres han construido otras casas. Estas denominaciones cristianas tienen muchas características buenas de la única casa de Cristo: como escritura, oración, el credo de los apóstoles, bautismo, matrimonio, las morales cristianas. Pero, en tiempo, viene la lluvia, bajan las crecientes, se desatan los vientos, contra esas casas y las arras an.  Esas casas sparan de las verdad y sparan desde los interiors en las casas nuevas. Por lo tanto, nunca abandonen las creencias y los sacramentos de la Iglesia Católica. Es la única casa de Jesucristo. No se engañen por mitos.

Set To Heaven — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 13, 2011

This morning, consider this important question: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? In this life, we can live like either thermometers or thermostats. A thermometer (as you know) accepts whatever temperature, hot or cold, that happens to surround it. A thermometer acts passively to the world’s influence. A thermostat, on the other hand, does not submit to the world around it. A thermostat is set to an ideal temperature and strives to attaint its goal.  As Christians, we should be as thermostats, and we should all be set on Heaven.

Do you think about Heaven much? Do you ever meditate on what it will be like? I think many of us get so drawn in by the here and now that we fail to give Heaven much thought. Yet, I think we would all be strengthened by meditating on it more; on what it promises and what it requires.

The next life is a mystery about which we can know a great deal. As Saint Paul says, “What God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” For example, we know that there will be no suffering or death in Heaven. The Book of Revelation says God ‘will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order (the way of this world) will have passed away.’

There shall also be no hatred in Heaven. No one with hatred in his or her heart will be able to enter. The Book of Wisdom teaches that God hates none of the persons he has made. He does not always like all the things that they do, but it is His love for each one that continues to hold them in being, and will hold them in existence forever. In order to see God in Heaven, we must become like Him. This is why Jesus forbids not only murder, but hatred in the heart as well. Consider how wonderful it will be to live in Heaven at peace with everyone.

After the resurrection, when our dead bodies are reconstructed from the dust, those who are just will be remade, stronger, handsomer, more incredibly beautiful, than they have ever looked before. Will their perfect bodies have any flaws? If glorified bodies do have “flaws,” they shall be as the wounds that remain in Jesus’ hands and side, beautiful and glorious forever. In this life, the beauty of one’s soul has little relationship to the beauty of one’s flesh; but in Heaven, the holiness of the saints shines out for all to see. 

In Heaven, in this midst of this overwhelming beauty, no one shall lust and none shall exploit another. Lust and exploitation go hand in hand. There is a good reason for the expression “to lust for power,” for lust is about manipulating another for one’s pleasure. Instead of lust, everyone in Heaven shall desire the true good of one another from their hearts.

In this life, temptations will come whether we want them or not, but remember that temptations in themselves are not sins—it is only when we say “yes” to temptation, when we choose to sin as temptations suggest, that we can be guilty of a sin such as lust. Until we can refuse temptation’s invitations, until all lust is driven from our hearts, we are not yet ready for Heaven. This is why Jesus teaches not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart as well. How wonderful it will be to full of love for all, purely, from our hearts, and to receive that same overflowing love in return.

Our lives on earth we are full of questions. But in Heaven, every question which has answer will be answered for us. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a [cloudy] mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Heaven is a place of transparent truth. There, the barriers to communication disappear. In Heaven, we shall know others fully, and be fully known ourselves. No lies nor concealments are possible there, “for there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Until we are free of lies, until we are people whose ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes,’ and whose ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ we are not yet ready to live in Heaven.

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, we may still have some attachments to sin, and be unprepared for Heaven. But, thanks be to God, there is Purgatory, to clean us up and make us perfect, so that we may enter the Father’s house and join the feast of Heaven. Though there is Purgatory, we must always aim for Heaven. If you shoot a bow and arrow and aim carefully for the bull’s-eye, you will probably miss but still hit the target. If you shoot only aiming at the target in general, you will probably miss and hit the ground. So aim for Heaven, lest any of us miss entirely.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So let us not default to world’s standards. Do not be a thermometer. Set your thermostat to the perfection of Heaven. Meditate on it and strive for it, and you will experience the joys and blessings of Heaven beginning in this life.

The Saints & Us — 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

November 5, 2010

Brothers and sisters, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, we have approached Heaven even as we remain on earth. Though we are dust and sinners, we stand before Jesus, the eternal Father, and the Holy Spirit. We draw near to each other and they invite us to share more deeply in their friendship. And they are not alone. They are surrounded by countless angels and by a multitude of men and women whom they have made perfect in goodness and love. We have a name for these “holy ones” who live with God in Heaven. We call them “saints,” and Jesus invites us to share their friendship, too.

Have you ever had the pleasure to introduce your friends to each other; people who already know and enjoy you, but who have never met each other? I think you’ll agree that it’s a very special joy when your friends to befriend each other. When your friends befriend each other do they love you less because of it, as if their affection has been divided or diluted? No, the love between all of you is greater for being shared. So it is with Jesus, the saints, and us. Some Christians fear that befriending Jesus’ friends in Heaven will lessen our love for Him. They fear that talking to them and honoring them will distract us from Christ. But these are silly fears. Love increases by being shared.

When someone asks you, “Would you pray for me,” or asks you to pray for one of their heartfelt concerns, what do you say in reply? Do you refuse, saying, “Why should you ask me to pray for you when you can go directly to God?” Nobody says that. Instead, Christians say, “Of course I’ll pray for you.” Christians ask each other to intercede for them not because they have lost hope in Christ, but because they have it, and because Scriptures tell us, “pray for one another.” Asking our friends and family in Heaven to pray for us is no different than asking our friends and family on earth, except that the prayers of the saints are offered by souls perfected in love and divine intimacy.

What about the objection that honoring the saints distracts from Christ? Today’s Gospel shows that Jesus does not think that sharing honor with His saints detracts from His own preeminent glory. He has said to them, “My friend, move up to a higher position. Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.” By giving seats of honor to His saints at His heavenly wedding banquet Jesus invites us to esteem them. In honoring them, we honor Him.

Remember that our circle of closest family and friends is not limited to earth. We have brothers and sisters in Heaven; saints and angels who know us, love us, and want to help us arrive at our true home. Let us remember to take the opportunity to make their acquaintance and grow in their friendship.

A Veiled Beauty — The Assumption

September 2, 2010

Consider this reflection by the servant of God, Bishop Fulton Sheen:

“Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself?

Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and un-mother-like actions? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her? Or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?”

Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?”

Fulton Sheen thought that Mary was, in every respect, the most beautiful woman who had ever lived. However, if we had been travelers walking through the small town of Nazareth during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, I’m not sure that we would have recognized God’s greatest creature as we passed by her. I imagine that her face may have looked quite ordinary, apart from her beautifully, loving smile. Her Son, was the all-beautiful God become man, yet it seems that Jesus was not the most handsome man alive. As the prophet Isaiah says of Him, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” (Is 53) Perhaps Jesus and Mary had ordinary physical features on earth because having extraordinary appearances would have impeded their missions.

Yet now, invested with heavenly glory, Jesus and Mary possess a beauty greater than anyone in history. The perfection of love, goodness, purity and virtue within them shines through their exterior in a way that captivates those who behold them. Jesus told St. Faustina to commission a painting of how He appeared to her. When Faustina saw the artist’s quality work she dissappointedly lamented, “[Jesus,] Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” The young visionaries at Fatima and Lourdes we struck by how very beautiful the mysterious lady was. And when St. Bernadette visited the grotto for the last time she remarked, “I have never seen her so beautiful before.” There is more to a beauty of this kind than natural appearance.

Why does the Church celebrate Mary’s Assumption? Because this solemnity not only celebrates her, but points to Church’s future. Virgin Mary is the icon, the image, of our Church. Jesus Christ’s Church is Marian. What she did, we are called to do; and where she has gone, we are called to follow. What Christ has done for Mary, He shall do for His Church on the last day. My previous reflections on the ordinary, appearances of Jesus and Mary probably had on earth only goes to show that external appearances can veil the true reality of things. 

Men judge by appearances, and they often misjudge. Many will drive past this building this hour without realizing the wondrous beauty of what is happening here inside. Many fail to see the beauty of Christ’s one, Catholic Church, for which this world was made and through which this world is saved. Many people see the beauty of exterior flesh, but not the beauty of the soul. Yet after the Last Judgment, everyone will see the most homely saint become radiant with beauty, and the most attractive sinner become repellant.

Mary is the first and greatest member of Jesus Christ’s Church. At the end of her unassuming life on earth Jesus lifted up her up body and soul into Heaven and gave her a beauty unmatched in history. He will do the same thing for His Church someday, and He desires to do the same for each of us. You and I are called to follow Mary in following Christ; to imitate their love, goodness, purity and virtue. Despite any appearances to the contrary, in this veiling and deceptive world, we are called to share in a beauty and glory like theirs.

C.S. Lewis on Our Immortality & Potential Glory

August 14, 2010

From The Weight of Glory:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere Latitat [Latin, “truly hides”]—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

A Mystery Revealed — Trinity Sunday

June 2, 2010

You may recall my mention of one of my favorite professors at seminary, Dr.  Perry Cahall. And I remember him telling us one day in class, “If, someday when you’re a priest, I hear that you got into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday and tell the people, ‘You know, the Trinity is a mystery, and so there’s really nothing we can know or say about it…’ I will hunt you down like the dogs you are.” This is my first homily on Trinity Sunday, and I’m going to make sure I give Dr. Cahall no reason to come after me.

The Trinity is a mystery, but that doesn’t men we know nothing or can say nothing about this central mystery of our Faith. In Catholic theology, a “mystery” is not something which is unknowable to us, it is just something which our human reason could not have discovered on its own.

Imagine if you came upon a sophisticated and well-written mystery novel. It’s so good that you can’t put it down. But as you get towards the end, you discover that the last couple chapters of the book are missing. You noticed some clues as the story unfolded, but without those last pages you can’t figure out the identity of the one “who did it.” You might try to find the ending in another copy of the book, but what if no other copies existed and no one had ever read the ending before? Your only hope would be to speak with the author. The author could tell you the rest of the story. The author could unveil the mystery for you and reveal the identity of the one “who did it.” Like that in sophisticated mystery novel, our God has placed clues throughout creation and His Old Testament interactions with His People. Yet, it was not until the coming of Jesus that the “who done it” was plainly revealed: God, the Author of the universe, is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today I would like to talk about some common questions people have about the Trinity. For instance, how is God both one and three, and then what difference does the Trinity make?

Some people have trouble with the concept of the Trinity because they think it is the claim that “one equals three” in God. However, this is not what we believe about the Trinity. The number one does not equal the number three, not in God or anywhere else, and not even the omnipotent power of God can make a logical contradiction true.

We believe one God, comprised of three divine persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is one What, as three Who’s. There is one divine nature, but three divine knowers, three divine willers, and three divine actors. We do not believe in three anonymous forces, but three loving persons. There is no God apart from or beyond these three persons.

Now the Father is not Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is not our Father. They are distinct persons. Yet, at the same time, each possesses the fullness of the divinity: perfect goodness, infinite beauty, perfect knowledge, infinite power, perfect mercy, and infinite love. We do not worship three gods, but three eternal persons who comprise one God.

The belief in the oneness of God was firmly instilled into the Jewish people. This conviction helped to keep Israel from falling into the worship of false gods and experiencing all of the evils that brings. For instance, Israel’s Canaanite neighbors were idolaters, who worshiped mere objects as gods that could make them happy. They practiced child sacrifice, killing their own children in hopes of receiving greater blessings in this life from the gods. And they had temple prostitution, in which promiscuous sexuality was as hailed as sacred.

Notice how our society has become more and more like those pagans as it has drifted from belief in the one true God. Our worship of objects which we think can make us happy is called materialism, or consumerism. Our human sacrifice, done in hopes of greater blessings in this life, is called abortion. And some have raised up sexual promiscuity as the way of greatest freedom and happiness.

The Jews were spared all of these evils so long as they clung to their conviction that “All gods are not the same, and we are to worship only one.” The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even to this day, observant Jews pray a prayer twice daily called the “Shema Yisrael,” from a passage in Deuteronomy:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Jews remain Jews today because they do not believe that Jesus is the promised messiah, or the Christ, the one for whom they have been waiting. Sometimes they criticize Christians saying we are not really monotheists, but polytheists, who believe in three gods: “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

Yet, revealingly, the word that God inspired in this Old Testament passage (“The Lord is one”) is not one of the words in Hebrew which always means numerical and solitary oneness (such as “yachid” or “bad”.)  Instead, the Holy Spirit selected a word which usually means a unified oneness: “echad.” This word (“echad”) is the same word used in Genesis, where God says of man and woman, “the two shall become one flesh.” In their union, the persons are as one being. And recall, God had said, “Let us make man in our image , after our likeness. …[And] God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” When husband and wife become a unified one, as one couple, in time, they are in the image and likeness of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who have are a unified one, as one God, eternally.

So what difference does the reality of the Trinity make for our lives? The Trinity shows us that God is not a solitary individual, isolated and alone. God is a loving communion of persons. This is the reality we come from, and this is the reality we are called to, in this life and the next.

In our post-modern age, some people talk about “the meaning of life” as if it were some kind of joke, or an unsolvable mystery beyond our capacity to discover or know. But we Christians believe we know the meaning of life, for it has been revealed to us. The meaning of life is the loving communion of persons. The loving communion of persons is what gives our lives meaning and it will be our primary delight forever in Heaven. Love is the reality we come from, and the reality we are called to.

‘Hear, O Church of God! The LORD is our God, the LORD is a unified one!  Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.’ Love the Lord your God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit, and become like the God you love.

Jesus’ Resurrected Body — Easter

April 7, 2010


On Holy Thursday, we meditated on the disciples’ feet. On Good Friday, our Saviour’s hands.  Today, let us consider Jesus’ resurrected body.

Jesus’ resurrected body is the very same that died and was buried, but it is a very different body, too. The tomb was empty on Easter morning, not because Jesus’ body was vaporized, but because it was raised.

Jesus’ resurrected body has wounds, in his hands and feet and side, showing that this is the same body that suffered on the cross. It seems that the cuts and bruises on Jesus’ face and the lashes on His back are healed, but these five wounds remain. Why? These wounds are trophies and jewels.  They no longer cause Him pain, but they testify to Jesus’ greatness and love and He will have them forever.

So Jesus’ resurrected body is the very same body that died on the cross and was buried in the tomb, but it is a very different body. For instance, Jesus in His glorified body can cause others to see but not recognize Him, as He did on Easter evening with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Only later, in the breaking of the bread, did they recognize Him. Then Jesus displayed another new power, disappearing from their sight. In His glorified body Jesus can move at the speed of thought and the walls and locked doors of the upper room do not prevent Him from appearing in the midst of the apostles.

In this there is a sign for the future of humanity. People often speak of “the end of the world” and imagine Heaven in strictly spiritual terms, but just as Jesus’ body was not annihilated but transformed, so our bodies and this universe will be remade. A glimpse into the future of the righteous is reflected in the resurrection of Christ.

Jesus’ body is not discarded, but gloriously transformed. In this there is a lesson for us. In (just about) every  life, there is a line that we have drawn in our relationship with God. It is a self-imposed limit on our trust, commitment, and self-gift towards Christ. “Lord, I will walk with you that far, (but no farther.)”

Perhaps we are unwilling to cross that line with us because we are too attached to the sins and mediocrity we have settled for, maybe we are afraid that we will lose who we are and become something that we are not, or maybe we are afraid that a total self-gift to God won’t truly make us happy. The devil likes this arbitrary line. He would like you to reach the end of your life and have to wonder with regret, “What would my life been if I had gone all-in for God?” The devil would have you fearful and repulsed of “the cross, the cross!” but the cross is not the end of our story.  Remember, as in Christ, God does not want to destroy you, but to transform you into who you truly are.

Do you believe Jesus suffered and died for you? Then He surely loves you. If He loves you, then how could He not desire your greatest happiness? Do you believe Jesus is divine and all-knowing? The surely He knows what will lead to your greatest good. Do you believe Jesus is all-powerful? Then surely He has the power the lead you to that good. Then what is standing in His way? There is only one thing standing in the way of His omnipotent power, preventing Him from transforming us into who (deep down) we truly want to be. That obstacle is our own freewill, the arbitrary line we draw in our relationship with Christ.

This Easter, let us be resolved to follow Christ without compromise. Let us entrust our whole selves to Him who has given us everything. Jesus does not want to destroy you, but to gloriously transform you into who you truly are.

When Towers Fall — 3rd Sunday in Lent—Year C

March 7, 2010

When disasters happen, like the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, some Christian observers respond according to two opposite extremes. One reaction says that a truly just God would never let the innocent die along side the guilty; therefore, all of the victims must have been punished for their sins and got what they had coming to them. The opposite reaction says that a truly loving God would never punish our sins; therefore, all of the victims must have been innocent.

The truth is more complicated than either of these simple and pat explanations. Our God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just. In this world the wheat grows side by side with the weeds. At harvest time, the two are uprooted together, but their eternal fates are not the same. We see that the truth is more complex than some assume by looking at the gospels.

One day Jesus and His disciples observed a man blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus smeared clay in man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The innocent man washed and returned able to see.

Yet, on another occasion (in the same Gospel of John) Jesus saw a man lying on the ground who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus miraculously cured this man too, but finding him later Jesus said to the man, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.” In this case, it appears that the man’s sin was connected to the cause of his sufferings.

We need to remember that people who suffer and die are not always guilty. On the other hand, people are not always innocent either. Discerning the truth behind why this or that evil befell this or that person or place usually lies well beyond our own limited vision.

For instance, the friends of Job insisted with all confidence that Job’s sufferings must be due to some great sin he had committed.  However, Job stood firm on his innocence, and he truly was as righteousness he claimed. Great sufferings and even violent death are no certain indication of a person’s sinfulness, that “they had it coming.” Just look at our holy and beloved saints:

  • St. John the Baptist was murdered in his 30’s, and St. Paul in his 60’s—they were both beheaded.
  • St. Peter was murdered too, crucified upside down, and of all the apostles, only St. John died of old age.
  • St. Joan of Arc, age 19, was murdered with fire.
  • St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Faustina Kowalska both died of tuberculosis, at ages 24 and 33.
  • St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Edith Stein were murdered by the Nazi’s in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
  • More recently, before our eyes, John Paul the Great suffered greatly and died of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Even the Blessed Virgin Mary, as perfectly innocent as she was, shared as a mystic and a mother in suffering the passion and death of her Son.

The innocent who suffer live and die in the likeness of Jesus Christ are promised a heavenly reward like His.

So from where do earthquakes and other natural disasters come? In the beginning of time, some of the angels and all of humanity rebelled against God and we rejected our proper places within His creation. This Fall introduced disharmony into our (now) mortal bodies and into the entire natural world. Since that time, Christ has come and in perfect obedience to our Father, died, rose, and has enabled us to be reconciled with God. However, the disharmony of nature remains and we remain free to choose to rebel against our God.

If rebel in sin, we should not be surprised if bad things happen as a result. Usually in this world, we are punished through our sins, more so than for them. For example, someone who neglects prayer and Sunday worship should expect that they will feel disconnected from God. Someone who abuses drugs or alcohol, will see the harmful consequences it brings to their relationships and at school or at work. Someone who covets their neighbors’ spouse and possessions will become sickly green with lust and envy. Add up the sum total of an entire peoples’ sins and you can easily see how an empire or a great nation can decline and decay over time.

God hates our sins, but not merely because they “break His rules.” God hates our sins in proportion to how harmful they are to us. If sins were not bad for us, then God would not command us not to do these things. God hates our sins because He loves us; these are two sides of the same coin.

So what should we do when we witness disaster strike half a world away or in our own community? We should pray for the dead and give our aid to those who live on. Christ calls us to give our compassion, love, spiritual support, and material aid to those who need it. And as for ourselves, such disasters should lead us to convert and reform our lives. Death can come suddenly to any of us. A car crash or a heart attack could take any of us tomorrow placing us unexpected before the judgment seat of God. Let us take such opportunities to prepare ourselves for that day which will come to us all.

What if is not instant death, but a more prolonged evil that comes to me? For instance, what if I go to the doctor and receive a terrible diagnosis?  When such a day comes for me, I hope that I may remember the tree from today’s Gospel, which the gardener worked and fertilized in hopes that it would bear much fruit. If I, like that tree, will humbly accept the manure that comes to me, then it will be a source of great fruitfulness to me.

Could an evil such as this be a correction or a chastisement from God on account of my sins? Possibly, but if I’m not aware of any serious unconfessed sins on my conscience, then probably not. More likely, Jesus is giving me the opportunity to following in His footsteps, to have a share in His cross like the holy saints who came before me. If we accept our crosses with humility, then they can become the means of our sanctification in the likeness of Christ and a source for spiritual fruitfulness for ourselves and the entire world.

Tuesday, 34th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

November 25, 2009

The prophets go beyond what is seen, to reveal what is hidden. Their purpose is to lead people to God.

In the first reading, Daniel reveals what was seen in the king’s dream. In the Gospel, Jesus reveals what will be seen in Jerusalem and at the end of this world as it no stands. In this homily, I will reveal to you three prayers hidden within the Mass which are always present there, but which you may have never heard before.

The first of these hidden prayers comes after the presentation of the gifts. A few of the faithful bring forth the bread and wine to the altar. It is no empty chore. This symbolizes the offering of all your gifts and of your whole lives to God.

I receive the gifts and then I say a prayer of praise to the God of all creation for this bread which we have to offer. Yet before I go on to a similar prayer with the cup of wine you may have noticed something unusual. The priest takes the water and pours a little into the cup of wine. It’s only a few drops, and the wine appears unchanged, but the water and wine have become inseparably one. As he pours, the priests silently prays this:

“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

You and I will always be God’s finite creatures, but, by the Incarnation, Jesus has made Himself inseparably one with our humanity. It is Jesus’ desire to make us more and more like His divine self through our personal union with Him.

What is the lesson for us here at Mass? We should come to each Mass with high expectations. Do you believe that your whole-hearted participation in this sacrament can make you a better, more beautiful, or more admirable person, and do powerful things for our world? Approach this sacrifice with high expectations. On this point St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux agree: “We receive from God as much as we hope for.”

After these prayers for the bread and wine, you will see me bow at the altar. At this moment comes the second hidden prayer. The priest prays:

“Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.”

What is the lesson for us here at Mass? We should strive to be fully-present at every Mass. Pray the Mass and sing the songs with your whole heart. Offer God this sacrifice with humility, contrition, gratitude and love.

After this comes the washing of the hands and a third silent prayer. The priest prays:

“Lord, wash me of my iniquity; cleanse me from my sin.”

I pray this prayer from particularly from the heart because I do not want my offering and partaking of this most holy sacrament to be the cause of my condemnation and death on account of my sins. (If you think of it, pray for your priest as he washes his hands, that He may offer this sacrifice well for you.) Approaching our all-holy God is serious stuff.

What is the lesson for us here at Mass? If you are aware of serious sins on your soul, come to  confession, the sacrament of reconciliation. Come and be cleansed. Lighten your burden. Do it today.

The prophets go beyond what is seen, to reveal what is hidden. Their purpose is to lead people to God. Through the revealing of these holy prayers I pray you be led to closer to our Lord Jesus Christ at this very Mass.

August 6 – The Transfiguration

August 17, 2009

Today, Peter, James and John see Jesus in a new light. The light they see does not shine on their teacher from another source. This light originates from within the person of Jesus Himself. At the Transfiguration, these apostles come closer to realizing Jesus’ full glory and dignity; that He is more than a teacher, more than a miracle worker, and more than the messiah. He is divine, the Son of the Ancient One.

We are human, not divine, but Christ wants to divinize us. He wants to make us more like God. Coming to appreciate who Jesus really was changed how the apostles related to Him. In the same way, knowing that everyone you meet will someday be transformed should influence how you relate to them.

My closing words come from C.S. Lewis and his book, The Weight of Glory:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”