Archive for the ‘St. Peter’ Category

David’s Kingdom Prefigures Christ’s Kingdom

November 20, 2022

Solemnity of Christ the King
By Fr. Victor Feltes

When the ancient Romans would crucify someone they displayed upon the cross the person’s name and the reason they were punished. For the Holy Cross on Good Friday, Governor Pilate had a sign inscribed in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek with Christ’s identity and the why he was condemned. It read: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” (The famous first letters of this phrase in Latin were “I.N.R.I.”) The Jewish chief priests told Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” But Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.” Pilate did not have faith in Jesus — he wrote what he did to troll the Jewish leaders — but what he had written was true. Jesus was condemned, suffered, and rose again as the King of the Jews and King of the Universe. This Sunday, we celebrate Christ the King, but where is Christ’s Kingdom today?

During his public ministry, Jesus preached, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is among you!” And at the Last Supper, Jesus prophesied, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” The next time Jesus drinks “the fruit of the vine,” (that is to say, wine) is on his Cross, when he drinks it from a sponge held up to his lips. From these passages, we can gather that the Kingdom of God has arrived. Yet we can also see that his Kingdom has not yet reached every place and every heart in every way. This is why the world was able to hand Jesus over to death and why Christians still pray to our Father above: “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” So where are we to find Christ’s Kingdom on earth? There are clues for us present in Sacred Scripture and history.

In our first reading, all the tribes of Israel become joined to David as their king. The Jews believed that the coming Messiah, their Christ, would be the King of Israel. And Jesus in the Gospels is repeatedly called the Son of David (that is, King David’s descendant, the heir to David’s throne). As St. Augustine taught, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The old foreshadows and points to the new. And though imperfect, the Old Testament Kingdom of David and his successors prefigures Jesus’ New Testament Kingdom. Several aspects of the old Davidic Kingdom help us to identify Jesus’ Kingdom in our midst; in particular, the Queen Mother, the Chief Steward, and the royal eunuchs.

One flawed feature of the old Davidic dynasty was that the kings each had multiple wives. From the beginning, God intended marriage to be a union of one man and one woman, but the kings of Israel — believing blood is thicker than water — used multiple marriages to seal their peace treaties and alliances with other lands. However, this creates a problem: when the king has many wives, who is the queen? You can imagine the rivalry and discord this question could cause. The Davidic dynasty’s solution to this problem was for the mother of the king to hold that prominent place as Queen Mother. The Queen Mother had a throne of honor at the king’s right hand and she served as an intercessor for the kingdom. If people had a request, they might bring it to her to present to the king. And if her request were pleasing to her son and served the kingdom’s good, the king would happily grant it to please his beloved mother.

Like in other kingdoms of past and present, the Davidic Kingdom had many royal ministers serving the king. But there was one prime minister among them: the king’s chief steward, the master of the royal household. The Davidic king’s chief steward bore on his shoulders a large wooden key as a sign of his office and authority. Today we honor citizens by giving them a symbolic key to the city; but this chief steward carried a symbolic key to the kingdom. His power was that of the king, on whose authority and with whose authority he acted, to open or to close, to permit or to forbid. However, any chief steward acting contrary to the king’s will would soon find himself replaced by another.

In the courts of ancient kingdoms like Israel’s, one would find royal eunuchs. A eunuch is a male who is either born or made physically incapable of marrying and having children. Kings preferred eunuchs for practical reasons: first, these men were safe to be around the king’s harem; and second, since they had no wife or children of their own, these eunuchs were fully-focused on the work of the kingdom.

The trusted eunuch’s mission, personal success, and legacy were wedded to that of the king and his kingdom. Perhaps you may already realize how the old Davidic kingdom foreshadows the Kingdom of God among us now. Jesus calls disciples who are willing and able to be “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, in his Church, celibate clergy and consecrated religious are dedicated to serving Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus told St. Peter, “I give you the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Jesus made Peter his prime minister, the first Pope, his chief steward and master of his household on earth Pope Francis is St. Peter’s successor in that office today.

Jesus has sealed his peace treaty and alliance with peoples of all lands through a single marriage: his marriage to his bride, the Church, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. But among the Church’s many members, is anyone the queen? As before, our queen is the mother of our King. Christ the King has raised up his Blessed Mother Mary to a throne at his right hand where she intercedes for his Church. We can ask her to present any request to her Son, and if it is pleasing to him and serves his Kingdom’s good, Christ our King will happily grant it, because he loves his mother and us so much.

The beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth is the one Church of Jesus Christ. Let us remain loyal to Christ our King, and remain loyal to his Kingdom, a Kingdom that is among us now, his Holy Catholic Church.

Transforming Love

May 1, 2022

3rd Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Today we have another account of Jesus appearing to his disciples on Easter Sunday wherein he prepares a meal for them and gives them support. He comes constantly to the disciples to be with them, guide them and encourage them. All the three readings of today tell us of our vocation and our mission to be at the service of the word and not to hesitate to proclaim our closeness to Jesus. We admire the courage of the Disciples of Jesus who preach with boldness and are ready to face sufferings happily for His sake.

John the Evangelist tells us that God is love. God’s love is unconditional, unmerited, and without limit. It lasts forever. It’s the beginning and end. And it’s the essence of what it means to be a Christian – one who knows God’s love and forgiveness and who loves God in return with all one’s heart, soul, mind, body, and strength. God’s love heals and transforms our lives and frees us from fear, selfishness, and greed. It draws us to the very heart of God and it compels us to give to him the best we have and all we possess – our gifts, our time, our resources, and our very lives. St. Paul the Apostle tells us that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given us.

Why did Jesus question Peter’s love and fidelity three times in front of the other apostles? It must have caused Peter pain and sorrow since he had publicly denied Jesus three times. Now Peter, full of remorse and humility, stated that he loved his master and was willing to serve him whatever it might cost. Jesus asks him “do you love me more than these?

Jesus may have pointed to the boats, nets, and catch of fish. Do you love me more than these things? He may have challenged Peter to abandon his work as a fisherman for the task of shepherding God’s people. Jesus also may have pointed to the other disciples and to Peter’s previous boast: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26:33) Peter now makes no boast or comparison but humbly responds: “You know I love you.”

The Lord Jesus calls each one of us, even in our weakness, sin, and failings, to love him above all else. Saint Augustine in his Confessions wrote: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new. Late have I loved you! …You shone your Self upon me to drive away my blindness. You breathed your fragrance upon me… and in astonishment I drew my breath…now I pant for you! I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me! – and I burn to live within your peace.” (Confessions 10:27) Nothing but our sinful pride and willfulness can keep us from the love of God. It is a free gift, unmerited and beyond payment. We can never outmatch God in giving love. He loved us first and our love for him is a response to his exceeding graciousness and mercy towards us. Do you allow God’s love to change and transform your heart? “Lord Jesus, inflame my heart with your love and remove everything that is unloving, unkind, ungrateful, unholy, and not in accord with your will.”

“Do You Love Me?”

April 30, 2022

3rd Sunday of Easter
By Fr. Victor Feltes

At the Last Supper, Simon Peter assures Jesus, “Lord, I am prepared to go to prison and to die with you.” But Jesus replies, “Peter, before the rooster crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.” Later that night, during Jesus’ trial before the Jewish high priest, Peter stands with the servants and soldiers outside. It’s a cold night, so they warm themselves around a charcoal fire in the middle of the courtyard. This is where Peter denies three times that he is in any way connected to Jesus. A rooster crows, Jesus turns and makes eye-contact with Peter, and Peter breaks down and weeps.

In our gospel, the risen Jesus appears to seven of his disciples at the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberius). He invites them to breakfast with him around another charcoal fire. This is the context for the conversation between Jesus and Peter today. After Peter’s three denials, Jesus provides him an opportunity to thrice-reaffirm his love. Jesus meets Peter by that charcoal fire like he mercifully encounters you and me in the confessional.

Now there is more going on in the original Greek of this gospel text than can be seen in our English translation. In English, the word “love” does a lot of heavy lifting. We say: “I love my family,” “I love my car,” “I love my country,” “I love pizza,” and “I love God.” But in Greek, there are multiple words for “love.” For example, “Phileo” refers to friendship or brotherly love, “Eros” refers to romantic love, and “Agape” refers to self-sacrificial, unconditional love. Agape is the way God actively loves us and how we are called to love too. “This is my commandment,” says the Lord, “that you (apage) one another, just as I have (agaped) you.

In today’s gospel, Jesus first asks: “Simon, son of John, do you love me (do you agape me) more than these?” And Simon Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I (phileo) you.” Simon loves Jesus as a dear brother and friend, but Peter, now humbled, recognizes that he does not love Jesus perfectly. Then Jesus asks again, “Simon, son of John, do you (agape) me?” Simon Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I (phileo) you.” But the third and final time, Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you (phileo) me?

Peter is distressed that Jesus switches this time to asking, “Do you (phileo) me?” Peter may be wondering, “Is Jesus questioning whether I even love him that much?” He says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I (phileo) you.” Jesus is not doubting Peter’s phileo love for him, but rather meeting him where he’s at, allowing him to answer with an unqualified “yes.” Peter’s love is not yet perfect, they both recognize that, but Jesus tells him to feed his lambs, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep as the chief shepherd of Christ’s flock on earth as the first pope. Jesus reveals to Peter that his faithful service will lead him to the perfection of self-sacrificial, agape love in end.

Amen, amen,” Jesus tells him, “when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God; that is, a martyr’s death. Peter would go on to be crucified upside-down and buried on Vatican Hill. Our gospel concludes with Jesus telling St. Peter and us: “Follow me.”

Like Peter there on the seashore, we probably realize that our love for God is real though imperfect. Jesus knows this too, of course, but he still loves us here and now. He meets us where we’re at, he loves us as we are, but he will not settle for that. He intends to call us, lead us, press us forward to more perfect love. His providence will lead us to places we may not want to go, to experience trials we would not choose for ourselves. But his purpose is to make us into a person, a person who loves, like Jesus Christ himself.

A final story…
In C.S. Lewis’ Christian fantasy novel, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” a little girl named Lucy is told about a great lion named Aslan. Aslan is the Christ figure in the world of Narnia. Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” Lucy asks, “Is he—quite safe?” And Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? [Of] course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Running to the Empty Tomb

April 17, 2022

Easter Sunday
By Fr. Victor Feltes

There is a joke about how John ran faster than Peter on Easter. John wins the footrace to the tomb and shouts, “I won, I won!” But Peter taunts him, “Who will ever know?” And John says under his breath: “Everyone will know.

St. John’s Gospel records how when Mary Magdalene told them about the empty tomb, “Peter and [John] went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but [John] ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first.” When Peter arrives, they both enter in to experience signs and results of Jesus’ Resurrection. If St. John is not highlighting his faster foot speed in order to brag, if his purpose is not to rub it in “Slow-Poke Peter’s” face, why include the detail about arriving before Peter?

Part of this is due to St. John accurately describing his firsthand experience of the empty Easter tomb of Christ. Who did what, when and with whom, are important facts when providing eyewitness testimony. Documenting that the tomb was empty before his disciples saw him alive again clarifies that Jesus’ Resurrection is a physical, historical event. The Risen Jesus is not a ghost, he’s not a vision, he’s not a fantasy. His body is not in the tomb. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Like other verses in Sacred Scripture, the detail about John running faster and Peter arriving after contains a spiritual meaning for us. One disciple arrives earlier, another disciple comes later, but they both meet together at the same holy place on Easter morning. They enter in together and see signs and results of Christ’s Resurrection inviting them to believe and accept that the world has changed. Sin and death do not have the last word. Jesus Christ is Lord.

Today, those of us here are like those two disciples. Maybe you’re a disciple who ran here faster. Or maybe you’re one who has arrived more slowly. Maybe you’ve been waiting here, preparing to enter into Easter, since the beginning of Lent. Or maybe you have not come to this holy place for months or years, until today. Either way, whether you came here first or last, all of us are called and blessed to be here together now.

How shall we respond to Easter? With faith or faithlessness? On the first Easter morning, St. Peter could have chosen to leave the tomb and return to his former life of commercial fishing. St. John, the newly-entrusted guardian of Jesus’ Mother Mary, could have abandoned her and fled far away, never to return. But both men chose to remain with the other disciples and soon experienced Christ alive among them.

I hope we all, from this day forward, will be here together each Sunday. Prioritize your faith above the world, like St. Peter did. Draw nearer to Mary and the saints, like St. John did. Remain with us here at St. Paul’s, as fellow disciples of Christ, to experience Jesus Christ alive among us. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. So believe in him, accepting how he has changed our world.

God Chooses People Like You

January 29, 2022

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

“Isn’t this the son of a carpenter?” —Luke 4:22

God chooses and uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He doesn’t need our ability, but rather our availability. He uses ordinary people who have nothing of their own to offer except their faithfulness and willingness to say “Yes” to God. One important point to note is that God does not call anyone by accident. Instead, He carefully considered before calling us. He knew each one of us personally. He also knows what he wants us to do for him. He calls us by our own names, with a plan in His mind.

We see this in the First Reading, which speaks of the calling of Jeremiah to be a prophet who will communicate God’s Word to his people. It was a calling that went back to the time before he was born. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” All of us have actually been called in this way. But our reaction is often similar to Jeremiah’s: “‘Ah, Lord God!’ ‘I know not how to speak; I am too young.’” But the Lord responded, “Say not, ‘I am too young’. To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak…” Then the Lord extended his hand and touched his mouth, saying: “See, I place my words in your mouth.” An ordinary youth called by God to do His Mission.

Look at the Apostle Paul. Whose feast day we celebrated on January 25th. St. Paul was one of the most educated men of his day and yet God brought him down in Acts 9. God opened his eyes to the beauty and glory of Jesus. Once Paul knew Jesus, all of his education, gifts, and talents were directed towards the Gospel. The Lord uses those humbled by a vision of His greatness and glory to testify to the proud and religious. The Lord humbled the Apostle Paul and used him mightily to plant churches, preach the Gospel, write more than a dozen New Testament letters, and so much more. God used educated people for His glory but often humbled them because of their pride so they will rely on Him.

Peter was a fisherman by trade, along with his brother Andrew. He grew into a gifted preacher and bold leader. Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times, but Peter didn’t believe Him. Imagine Peter, the leader of the Apostles and a member of the inner circle of the Son of God, denied him three times. Peter felt devastation, shame, and guilt. He may have thought “I’m such a failure that God could never use me again,” but that isn’t true. God uses our failures, hardships and trials for His glory. He turns what was meant for bad to testify to His grace. You say that you are a failure and yet God says because of the finished work of Christ you are victorious. The Apostle Peter went on to be mightily used by God because He was broken. You may be broken right now but in due season God will build you up and use you for His glory. Don’t run from Him, run to Jesus. God uses ordinary people for His glory.

Jesus is a good manual worker from a small village. He is just another person in the town. But the rumors being spread about his actions in Capernaum and the words he has just spoken seem to indicate a special connection with God. On the one hand, his origins are well-known, but on the other hand his origin is completely unknown. Who is Jesus really? The ordinary carpenter, Jesus, is the Son of God who has become man in order to redeem us from our sins.

How could God use you? Look at your situation and your surroundings. Perhaps God has placed you in your school, your job, your family, or your neighborhood to do something special for the Lord Jesus Christ. God is calling you right now; all you have to do is say, “Yes, Lord!” Will you make yourself available to Him? Remember, God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for His glory!

Following the Shepherd

September 12, 2021

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

[Homily Part 1 at both parishes]

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ.” That was a correct and inspired answer. Jesus then began to openly teach his disciples that he, as the Christ, must greatly suffer, be rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, be murdered, and rise after three days. Peter then took Jesus aside and began to correct him. St. Matthew reports that Peter said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” At this, Jesus turned and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter in return, saying, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus calls St. Peter, his apostle, his Church’s first pope—“Satan.” What are we to make of this?

Satan” is the title given to the highest angel who rebelled against God at the beginning of Creation. The Book of Revelation recalls how “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world … was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Jesus talks about this Evil One: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. … He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. …He is a liar and the father of lies.” Both Jesus Christ and his Church today definitely believe in the Devil and that he prowls about the world opposing God and our good. But Jesus does not accuse Peter of being that fallen angel.

The Hebrew word “satan” means “adversary.” Jesus calls Peter his adversary at that moment because he is opposing God’s plan and being an obstacle in Jesus’ path. Like the Devil during the Temptations in the Desert, Peter is suggesting that Jesus be a Messiah who never suffers, a rich, powerful, comfortable Christ who imposes his will over peoples in the same mold as earthly kings. This is what Peter and Judas and the Jews in those days expected. But Jesus knew that the Christ must greatly suffer if the Kingdom of God would save human souls.

During the forty days in the desert, Jesus rebuked the Devil, “Get away, Satan!” And at the Last Judgment, Christ the King upon his throne will tell the unrighteous goats on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” But notice Jesus does not say to Peter “get away” or “depart from me.” Jesus tells him, “get behind me.” Peter is not yet thinking as God does but the Lord Jesus does not desire to cast Peter off forever, if that fate can be avoided. If Peter would humbly follow Jesus, the Lord would show him the Way. Jesus saying “get behind me” was not a personal rejection of Peter, but asking him to follow his Good Shepherd from a new perspective to the Promised Land of heaven.

[Homily Part 2 at St. Paul’s]

Peter thought he had a great plan for Jesus and himself, but Jesus had a different plan, a more challenging plan, but a better plan for them both.

There is godly prudence in our forming of plans and working hard to achieve them. Like in Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper, the Book of Proverbs urges the lazy to work and prepare for tomorrow: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.” St. Paul believed in Divine Providence, but also taught the Thessalonians: “When we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” And Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Jesus then encourages his hearers to be just as prudently intentional and totally invested in being his disciple. It is good for us to make plans and work hard toward worthy goals. But we should also keep in mind that all of our earthly plans are uncertain.

We simply do not know what our remaining time on this earth will be like. St. James writes in his New Testament Letter: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’ — you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’” As another verse from the Book of Proverbs says: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

In this land of the living, we do not know our earthly futures and we cannot control everything to make our futures entirely as we’d like. But then again, who’s to say that knowing our future perfectly would be good for us? Who’s to say that having the power to craft a future exactly to our liking, would be best for us? We very well may not know what is best for us and what is best for us may not be something we would readily choose. We do not always think as God does, but as human beings do.

Young Simon Peter could not imagine that the Christ would be killed, but this was how Jesus would save the world. Young Peter used to dress himself and go where he wanted; but when he grew old, he stretched out his hands and someone else dressed him and led him where he did not want to go. Jesus had foretold this to Peter, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God in the divine plan: crucified in the likeness of his friend and Lord and God, and sharing (more than most) in his glory. Our personalized path to sainthood may not be the one we’d expect or choose for ourselves.

We ought to plan and work hard towards worthy goals, even though this broken world and the sins of men and demons make all of our plans uncertain. Our human sight and wisdom are limited. We do not always see, or have the courage to pursue, what is best for us. But we do know, as St. Paul taught the Romans, “that God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Jesus tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” With this firm confidence, let us get behind Jesus Christ and follow him who leads our lives to salvation even through the Cross.

[Homily Part 2 at St. John the Baptist’s]

This is where your homily this morning diverges from what I’m preaching at St. Paul’s this weekend because I have been meaning to talk to you about ad Orientem Masses. Since the Second Vatican Council, the most common way priests have celebrated Mass is versus populum, or “towards the people.” Yet the much longer-practiced custom has been for the priest and the people to face literally or symbolically towards the East together, or “ad Orientem.” Like Muslims today who pray towards Mecca, the custom of the Jews was to pray towards the Temple in their holy city of Jerusalem. The writings of the Church Fathers show that the early Christians prayed towards the east.

In the second century, St. Clement of Alexandria wrote “prayers are made looking towards the sunrise in the east.” And in the third century, Origen noted: “…Of all the quarters of the heavens, the east is the only direction we turn to when we pour out prayer…” Tertullian records that Christians facing east to pray caused some non-Christians to mistakenly believe we worshiped the sun. But the Christians praying towards the sunrise saw a symbol of Christ rising from the dead and of his promised return to earth in radiant glory one day. Throughout the centuries, even in churches which were not built to face east, the priest and the people faced the same direction (or “liturgical east”) together. However, since the 1970’s the prevailing custom has been for the priest to face towards the congregation.

Now I am not saying that one way of celebrating English Masses is good and the other way is terrible. The Catholic Church approves both versus populum and ad Orientem as valid, legitimate options. But these two ways of celebrating the Mass emphasize different things. Celebrating versus populum, toward the people, emphasizes the horizontal aspect, the communal meal. And the Holy Mass is indeed a meal, a memorial of the Last Supper; where Jesus Christ and his disciples gather at his table. Celebrating ad Orientem, toward the East, emphasizes the vertical aspect, the sacrificial offering. And the Holy Mass is indeed a sacrifice, a memorial of the Cross; where Jesus Christ is offered up for us from his altar.

I experienced my first ad Orientem Mass back when I was still in seminary. The celebrant was a priest of our diocese, a graduate from our seminary returning to visit us, Fr. Derek Sakowski. I remember fearing that I would hate the Mass being said that way because I often dislike change. (For instance, our seminary once changed the toaster in the dining hall and, even though I almost never used that old toaster, I was annoyed when they had replaced it with another because the old one was pleasantly familiar.) Fr. Sakowski said the same English prayers as at other Masses, but seeing him celebrating that Mass ad Orientem, facing us when speaking to us and facing God when praying to God, I found it surprisingly beautiful and it made a lot of sense. Here at St. John the Baptist Church, I’ve celebrated our Monday, Thursday, and First Friday Masses ad Orientem since 2019, and attendees have reported positive experiences similar to mine. I’d like to give you the opportunity to experience this, too.

Around fifty years ago, when versus populum (Mass facing the people) became the prevailing custom in the Church, pastors often introduced the liturgical change abruptly and without adequate explanation. It was jarring, many lay people were bewildered and hurt, and public Masses celebrated ad Orientem were very rarely offered. I do not wish to repeat those mistakes going in the opposite direction.

Having consulted with our Parish Pastoral Council (who encouraged me to proceed with this plan) I’d like to alternate celebrating Masses ad Orientem and versus populum over four upcoming weekends. This means that if you consistently attend the same Mass time over those four weeks, you’ll experience the English Mass offered ad Orientem twice. Come with an open mind. After that, I’ll survey your feedback. Which approach do you find more fruitful? Which weekend Mass would you like to see celebrated ad Orientem on a regular basis: Saturday night, Sunday morning, neither, or both? I’ll want to hear what would help you worship best, and then we’ll go from there. For now, let us turn to Jesus Christ who invites us this morning, like St. Peter before us, to share in his holy meal and his perfect sacrifice.

Knowing God by Name

January 16, 2021

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Andrew found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah! (We have found the Christ!)” Then he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.

It is a very significant thing when God changes someone’s name. This only happened four times in Bible history. First, God renamed Abram, Abraham (meaning “the Father of Multitudes”) and renamed his wife Sarai, Sarah (or “Princess”). Later, God renamed their grandson Jacob, Israel (or “He who wrestles with God”). From him, God’s first adopted people would receive their name. And finally, Jesus changes Simon’s name. His name becomes Cephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, which both mean Rock” or “Stone.” Jesus says, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

All four of these extremely important figures in salvation history received a name from God reflecting their true identity in his plan. Abraham would go on to have a multitude of descendants, many by blood and many more by faith, while St. Peter would go on to be a stable rock for Christ’s Church as her first pope. The names God chooses are revelatory, and this is true for God’s own names and titles as well.

When God revealed himself to Moses through the burning bush and commanded him to be a messenger to his people, Moses said to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” In those days the early Israelites, surrounded as they were by polytheistic cultures, did not realize that there was only just one God. So if Moses were to come to the Israelites saying God had sent him, they might reply “which one?” When asked for his name, God replies to Moses: “I AM WHO AM. This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” In Hebrew, these words “I AM” are pronounced “Yahweh,” which some have mispronounced as “Jehovah”.

What is revealed in this name, “I am who am”? Firstly, that God is personal. God is a Who, rather than a what. Secondly, unlike the false gods of the pagans, this God is real. Unlike those so-called gods, ‘I AM, so I have the power to save you.’ Thirdly, God is not merely another being that exists in the world, but the foundation of all existence. “I am who AM.” To exist is of God’s very essence. Fourth and finally, that God is mysterious. To say “I am who am” is something of a refusal to provide a name. ‘Who am I? I am who I am.‘ God’s perfect, infinite essence surpasses man’s imperfect and limited labels and concepts.

God spoke further to Moses in that encounter at the burning bush saying: “This is what you will say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.” Here the Lord identifies himself in terms a communal relationship (‘I am the God of your ancestors’) and then by three individual relationships (‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’). This foreshadows what would be revealed to us through Jesus Christ; that God is an eternal Trinity, a communal relationship of divine three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

God provides other true titles for himself in the Sacred Scriptures he inspired: He is Lord. He is Most-High. He is Almighty. I AM who heals. I AM who sanctifies. I AM who will provide. I AM who is there. Our banner, our shepherd, our righteousness, our peace. And ultimately, God reveals himself through his Incarnate Word, Jesus, whose name means: “Yahweh is salvation” or “Yahweh saves.”

What is the significance of sharing one’s name with another? To reveal your name to others allows them to know you better, it opens up a more personal relationship than one has with a stranger. Sharing your name permits others to honor your name or to defame it, and it allows them to call upon you.

In today’s first reading, the Lord repeatedly calls by name the young Samuel sleeping in the temple: “Samuel, Samuel!” When Samuel keeps running to his foster-father, the High Priest Eli, saying, “Here I am. You called me,” Eli realizes that the Lord is calling the boy. So Eli tells Samuel, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” When Samuel goes back to bed, the Lord comes and reveals his presence, calling out as before, and Samuel answers, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” This response led to a deeper relationship for Samuel with the Lord, and Samuel went on to become one of God’s great prophets.

God has revealed his name, his very self, to you. You know his name, you know him, and he calls you. The Lord declares through the Prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Will you answer the Lord’s next calling for you; to prayer, to service, to sacrifice, to love? This week, when he calls you, even in the quiet of your conscience, answer him: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

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.

Your Chosen Cross

August 30, 2020

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In last Sunday’s gospel, Simon Peter was inspired to declare of Jesus, ‘you are the Messiah, you are the Christ,‘ and Jesus affirmed that it was true. Then, immediately following in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the Jewish religious leaders, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter is scandalized by this news. The Messiah is supposed to be our triumphant king! How could the Christ suffer and be killed? Peter has seen Jesus’ powers; like curing the sick, casting out demons, multiplying loaves and fish. The Lord doesn’t have to let anyone get the better of him. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter presumes that he knows better than the Lord. Jesus turns and says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (“Satan” is the Hebrew word for “adversary.”) You are [being] an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

God the Father did not prepare an easy life for his beloved Son. That’s what Peter had hoped for, a smooth and easy path to glory. Jesus’ life was marked by joy and sadness, struggles and sacrifice, death and resurrection. Christ’s was not an easy life but a great and glorious life, and Jesus calls you and I to follow him. Jesus says to his disciples, “whoever wishes to save his life (from every trial, hardship, and sacrifice) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake (whoever devotes himself in love and service for me) will find it. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This call included Peter. Notice how Jesus in correcting Peter does not say to him “Depart from me, you accursed,” but rather “Get behind me”; in other words, “Follow me.

In the New Testament, we see that Simon Peter was not perfect. Both before and after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter made mistakes. Yet Peter’s faith in Jesus Christ was a foundation the Lord could build upon. And through a lifetime of providential trials, Simon Peter grew more and more into Christ’s likeness. Peter became the first pope, the first bishop of Rome, and while there, in 64 A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero unleashed a severe persecution of Christians, scapegoating the Church for a six-day fire that devastated Rome in July of that year. One tradition says that Peter, seeing the danger, reasoned that it would be better to flee the persecution so he could continue to lead the Church. However, on his way out of the city, Peter had a vision of Jesus walking in the opposite direction. Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (“Domine, quo vadis,” in Latin.) “I am going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied.

This story comes to us from a late second century text and may or may not be pious legend, but what follows is very firmly known. St. Peter was arrested and condemned to die by crucifixion at Rome. However, Peter did not consider himself worthy to die in the very same manner as our Lord, so he made an unusual request. He asked to be crucified upside down, with his feet toward Heaven and his head toward the earth, and this is what the soldiers did. Peter died, his body was taken down from his cross, and Christians buried him in a grave very close-by. That place, a Roman hill, bears the same name now as it did then: Vatican Hill. The Emperor Constantine built a church over the place in the fourth century, and an even more magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the same site in the 1500’s and stands there to this day.

In the mid-twentieth century, archaeologists uncovered and forensic scientists studied ancient bones from below St. Peter’s, found some sixty feet directly below the main altar. Analysis indicates these bones came from a man between sixty and seventy years old, about five foot seven inches tall; and possessing a robust frame, as we might expect a fisherman to have. These bones were formerly wrapped in a very expensive cloth comprised of gold and purple threads in the pattern of an ancient Roman weave. The skeleton is largely complete but the feet are missing. If the Roman soldiers had no respect for Peter’s remains, it’s easy to imagine them using a sword to hack down his body from the cross, leaving his feet behind, nailed high on the wood. Jesus once declared, “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” It appears that Jesus has not only fulfilled his words spiritually, through St. Peter’s faithful life, but has literally built his Church over St. Peter’s bones as well. This is what Jesus did and achieved with a man formerly so flawed and fickle as St. Peter. The Lord would do great things through the transformative trials of our lives as well.

Once upon a time, one night, a Christian had a dream. They were carrying a cross, representing all of their burdens, temptations, and trials, and approached Jesus standing beside a large warehouse. The Christian said, “Lord, my cross is hard to carry. May I exchange it for another?” Jesus invited them inside the warehouse containing millions of crosses of different styles, materials, and sizes. Walking the aisles, the Christian sees an attractive, short cross with straight edges and flat sides made of pure gold. Gold is extremely heavy, about ten times denser than brick, so the Christian was not strong enough to lift it up. Going further on, there was a beautiful, tall and thin cross made entirely of diamonds. Now diamonds are very hard; they are sometimes employed at the tips of drill bits because they are harder than pretty much anything else. The Christian could lift this cross, but it poked and gnawed and cut into one’s palms and shoulder, so it was set down again. Circling back, the Christian saw a wooden cross of head-height leaning against the wall. Its sides were uneven but wear had smoothed them. It was not light, but not too heavy to carry. It was a simple cross, but a noble one. The Christian returned to Jesus and said, “This is the cross I’d like to carry.” And Jesus replied, “That’s the cross you came here with.

Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

How They All Went Wrong

May 3, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter—Year A

Why did Satan rebel against God?
Why did Judas betray Jesus?
Why did Peter deny the Lord three times?
The underlying answer is important for our present lives.

Why did the Devil rebel? Though mysterious, it seems that this angel proudly desired a greater “glory” than was found in God’s hierarchy. To be God without God. This was his suggestion in tempting our first parents; “you will be like gods”. Satan, being the most powerful of the demons, rules a fallen kingdom apart from goodness, truth, and God.

Why did Judas Iscariot betray Jesus? It might have been for the money; thirty pieces of silver was about five weeks of wages and St. John the Apostle reports that Judas “was a thief and held the [apostles’] moneybag and used to steal the contributions.” Yet St. Matthew writes that when Judas saw Jesus condemned he deeply regretted what he had done and returned the money to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Perhaps Judas never intended the Lord to die but had hoped that Jesus, with his back against the wall, would finally wield his mighty, miraculous powers to claim David’s earthly kingdom (and hand Judas himself a privileged place within it.) Yet Judas’ dishonest and disloyal scheming left him with nothing.

Why did Simon Peter deny the Lord three times during the Passion? St. John’s Gospel suggests he lied about having any connection to Jesus first to gain entry into the courtyard of the high priest, then to keep from being tossed out, and finally to avoid being physically assaulted by a relative of the man whose ear he had severed with a sword earlier that evening in the garden. St. Luke tells us that Peter, when he then heard a rooster crow, “went out and began to weep bitterly” over what he had done.

Satan, Judas, and Peter chose sin because they thought wrongdoing was the way to good things they would not otherwise have. But this is not Jesus’ way. In our second reading St. Peter writes of the Lord, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” He was “leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” In our Gospel, Jesus declares:

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers. … Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.

Jesus is our gate. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Always come and go through this narrow gate, for many prefer to bypass it like thieves and robbers. “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Jesus’ sheep know his voice and are called to uncompromisingly follow it. Before Pontius Pilate, Jesus said, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The words of a Jewish proverb pray to God:

Two things I ask of you,
do not deny them to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the Lord?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.

In our present season of trial, the complacency of riches has withdrawn but other temptations draw near. This is a time of testing. Will I tell lies? Will I steal? Will I sin to possess or enjoy good things I might not otherwise have? Do not give in, do not compromise, do not capitulate to evil. This is Christ’s will for you. Remember and be resolved: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

But what if you do go on to fall, or what if you have already sinned? What then should you do? Due to their nature, the demons will never adjust their wills towards repentance. Judas deeply regretted what he had done but he despaired of forgiveness and forfeited his life. St. Peter however returned, repented, and renewed his devotion to his Savior. (“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”) St. John assures us about Christ, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

The commandments of Christ flow from his own divine nature — total truth, pure goodness, perfect love — and these must not be spurned. Yet realize that the essence of Christianity is not rules or laws but a personal relationship: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. … I will not reject anyone who comes to me.” Follow the Good Shepherd faithfully and goodness and kindness will follow all the days of your life and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Fasting from the Eucharist

April 10, 2020

Good Friday

St. Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Lent of 1995

The Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, to which we and 98.6% of the world’s Catholics belong, has just one day each year when no Masses are to be celebrated. That day is today, Good Friday. After a reading of Christ’s Passion from the Gospel of John and reverencing his holy Cross, the Good Friday liturgy contains a Communion service in which presanctified (previously consecrated) Hosts are distributed and consumed. However, in the early Church, there was no reception of Holy Communion by the faithful on Good Fridays at all. This fact was once noted by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Cardinal Ratzinger, this highly-esteemed theologian, would go on to be elected pope and take the more familiar name Benedict XVI. In his 1986 book “Behold the Pierced One,” he reflected upon the spiritual benefits that could be found by Catholics in full communion with the Church abstaining for a time from receiving our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Obviously, these interesting passages are relevant to us now during this Long Lent of 2020.

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

“When [St.] Augustine felt his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and took upon himself ecclesiastical penitence. In his last days, he set himself alongside, in solidarity, with the public sinners who seek forgiveness and grace through the pain of not receiving the Communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for Him, the righteous and gracious One. Against the background of his sermons and writings, which describe the mystery of the Church as a communion with the Body of Christ and as the Body of Christ, on the basis of the Eucharist, in a really marvelous way, this gesture is quite shocking. It seems to me more profound and fitting, the more often I ponder it. Do we not often take things too lightly today when we receive the most Holy Sacrament? Could such a spiritual fasting not sometimes be useful, or even necessary, to renew and establish more deeply our relation to the Body of Christ?

In the early Church there was a most expressive exercise of this kind: probably since the time of the apostles, Eucharistic fasting on Good Friday was part of the Church’s spirituality of Communion. Not receiving Communion on one of the most holy days of the Church’s year, which was celebrated with no Mass and without any Communion of the faithful, was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Passion of the Lord: the sorrowing of the bride from whom the bridegroom has been taken away (see Mark 2:20). I think that a Eucharistic fast of this kind, if it were deliberate and experienced as a deprivation, could even today be properly significant, on certain occasions that would have to be carefully considered—such as days of penitence (and why not, for instance, on Good Friday once more?) […]

Such fasting — which could not be allowed to become arbitrary, of course, but would have to be consonant with the spiritual guidance of the Church — could help people toward a deepening of their personal relation to the Lord in the Sacrament; it could be an act of solidarity with all those who have a yearning for the Sacrament but cannot receive it. […] I would not of course wish to suggest by this a return to some kind of Jansenism: in biological life, as in spiritual life, fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing to do. Yet from time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and its dullness. Sometimes we need to be hungry—need bodily and spiritual hunger—so as once more to comprehend the Lord’s gifts and to understand the suffering of our brethren who are hungry. Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.”

During this dangerous Coronavirus pandemic, faithful shepherds charged by Christ to care for the fullness of persons entrusted to them have prescribed sad but necessary measures which have restricted access to Holy Communion. In doing this, our Church leaders follow in the prudential footsteps of past prelates who likewise suspended public Masses during times of deadly contagion, from the medieval plagues to the modern Spanish Flu. Although public liturgies with Communion have ceased it is important to remember that the Holy Mass continues to be offered by priests in our Catholic churches. The graces of Jesus’ sacrifice pour forth from these altars into Christians souls around the world. Do not doubt that our Lord will provide sufficient grace for all that you are called to do in this season of our lives. As the Lord once told St. Paul when the saint prayerfully begged for a certain trial to be taken away, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

When we cannot physically receive Jesus in the Eucharist we can still unite ourselves to him through a prayer for Spiritual Communion. Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote that the practice of Spiritual Communion “has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: ‘When you do not receive Communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a Spiritual Communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.’” Once, in a 14th century vision, Jesus showed St. Catherine of Siena two chalices, one gold and one silver. He said her Sacramental Communions were preserved in the gold chalice and her Spiritual Communions in the silver one. When our sacramental reception of our Lord proves impossible, Jesus desires our Spiritual Communion. Until the day we are all safely reunited around his altar, I urge you to make acts of Spiritual Communion, such as this famous prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori:

My Jesus,
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.

Just one month ago, when pews were full for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we heard the Gospel story of the Transfiguration. On Mount Tabor, Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Ecstatic, Simon Peter said in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter wanted to never leave that euphoric time and place, but it was necessary that Jesus lead him down from that mountain top into the dark valley; from the Mount of Transfiguration to the Hill of Crucifixion.

It is a true sacrifice to fast from the Eucharist this Good Friday amidst this Long Lent. But our Christian sacrifice is not without purpose nor without hope. Like Jesus’ Passion, it is a sacrifice offered for the love of others. This is his Body given up to save many; we do this in memory of him. And like Jesus within his Passion, we can be confident that this arduous trial shall pass away and our suffering and obedience will soon yield great rewards, particularly a deepened love for our Eucharistic Lord. Being followers of the transfigured Christ takes us to Calvary, but the Passion is what leads us to his Resurrection. And the more we share in the likeness of Christ, the more we will share in his glory.

Shepherds & Fishermen — 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 3, 2020

What did the twelve apostles do for a living before Jesus called them to follow him? For six of the first apostles, that is half of the original twelve, we have no words from Scripture concerning their previous jobs. We are told that St. Matthew was a tax collector for the Roman government. We also hear of St. Simon the Zealot, who was either especially zealous in his personal religious devotion, or had ties to the Jewish Zealot movement is Israel. The Zealot movement sought, through politics and insurrection, to overthrow the Roman government in the Promised Land. If Matthew and Simon did indeed come from opposite sides of that era’s political spectrum, it suggests that every political party or faction has important things to learn from Jesus Christ.

In today’s Gospel, we learn the shared profession of four other apostles: Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John; they were commercial fishermen. Now the Lord choosing men from the fishing industry was something new in salvation history. In the Old Testament, God often employs shepherds in his holy service. Among the patriarchs there is Abraham, Jacob-Israel, and his twelve sons – shepherds all. Later there’s the prophet Moses, King David, and Amos the prophet, each of whom tended flocks for some time before receiving their higher calling from God. As far as I can tell, there are no fishermen of particular note in the Bible before these four to whom Jesus says, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus, in calling fishermen, is doing something new. Now if the fishing background of these four apostles were irrelevant, I doubt the Holy Spirit would have inspired the inclusion of this fact into the Gospels. So what is the significance of this detail?

The work of a shepherd is different from that of fisherman. A shepherd tends his flock. He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. Some new lambs are born while other, older sheep go off to market or return to the earth, but the size of the sheepfold tends to remain rather stable. A fisherman, on the other hand, through his practiced skills and God’s providence, seeks and finds new fish every day. The fish are living in their own dark, watery world until the fisherman gathers them to himself. A shepherd maintains his numbers, but a fisherman goes out to seek more and more. Jesus chose his apostles not only to shepherd his people Israel, but to go forth to fish for people from all nations. Jesus made Peter not only a “fisher of men” but commanded him to ‘”feed my lambs… tend my sheep… feed my sheep.

Today we primarily think of water as a symbol of life, because nothing lives without water. Yet in the ancient world, water was often seen as a symbol of death. It’s possible even on a calm day to drown in a river, lake, or sea, but the volatile, deadly nature of large bodies of water is the subject of stories, poems, and songs even up to our day. For example:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Fish live with this realm of death, a dark, watery world. The fisherman brings fish into the light, to a higher realm, a world they had previously ignored or never imagined. In our semi-post-Christian world today, is Jesus calling you and I to be shepherds or fishermen? Are we meant to maintain our flock, or to endeavor for more unnetted souls? There is need for both missions. In fact, we are called to do both. Many around us are baptized and still identify as Christians, yet how deep does their faithful devotion really go? Peter and Andrew left their careers for Jesus. James and John left their family for Jesus. Yet how few people today even come to church for him. True devotion and divine relationship is ignored or never imagined. Jesus calls you to be a missionary; not on the far side of the earth so much as in our own community. Be able to give witness to him. When I was a kid, when we were driving home from Sunday Mass, my family would often talk about what we heard in the homily. Today you your drive home from church I encourage you to ask each other: Why did you come to church today? What difference does it make for your life? We need to practice sharing why our faith is a gift with one another so that we can invite others to share this treasure.

In our first reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we learn that the Christians in Corinth were choosing favorites and forming factions: ‘I belong to Paul. I belong to Apollos. I belong to Cephas.‘ St. Paul writes to remind them, you belong to Christ! Do not allow another person to get in way of Jesus for you. Pastors are important and Jesus has ordained it so, since without clear leadership how could St. Paul’s prayer and Christ’s desire, ‘that all of us agree in what we say, that there be no divisions among us, that we be united in the same mind and in the same purpose‘ ever be achieved? The need for human leadership of Jesus’ Church in this broken world, however, makes grave sin and scandal possible. This is a terrible thing, wherever and whenever it occurs. But please, please, do not separate from Peter on account of another apostle’s sin. You need Jesus, I need Jesus, and everyone else needs Jesus, too. Let us be good shepherds and fishers of men, caring for and seeking out everyone in our midst, as Jesus calls us to do.

Lessons from the Sins of Simon Peter & Judas

April 9, 2019

After arresting [Jesus] they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest; Peter was following at a distance. They lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter sat down with them. … About an hour later, still another insisted, “Assuredly, this man too was with him, for he also is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “My friend, I do not know what you are talking about.” Just as he was saying this, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

– Luke 22:54-55,59-62

This threefold denial by Simon Peter was perhaps the most regretted moment of his life. He denied even knowing Jesus Christ, his teacher, friend, Lord, and God. How humble Peter was to share this story with the Early Church and how wonderful that the Holy Spirit inspired its inclusion in the Gospels! He shows us the fallen can get back up, wanderers can return, sinners can be forgiven, and even those who gravely sin can go on to become the greatest saints.

Jesus would go on to rehabilitate Peter after the Resurrection, alongside another charcoal fire by the Sea of Galilee. Mirroring the three denials, Jesus asks three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Simon Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” and Jesus reinstates him as shepherd of his sheep and lambs. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) is likewise a personal encounter with Jesus Christ where we re-profess our love for God and receive his restoring forgiveness through the ministry of his ordained priest.

Though Simon Peter’s sins were forgiven they were not without loss and opportunities squandered. During the Passion, as they led Jesus away, “they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” If Simon Peter had not sinned in denying Christ the night before he could have been there, ready and willing to get behind his Lord, pick up Jesus’ cross and follow him. How beautiful that would have been! But this opportunity fell to another Simon.

Thanks be to God, St. Peter went on to repent. He did not give up to despair like Judas Iscariot. When Judas saw Jesus condemned and on his way to execution he deeply regretted what he had done. (One theory for why Judas had sold Jesus out is he wanted to trigger a confrontation with the leaders of Israel which would force Jesus to wield his mighty powers and take the throne.) Judas tried to return the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They answered, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.” Flinging the money into the temple, Judas departed and went off and hanged himself.

What if instead, on Good Friday afternoon, Judas had immediately ran to Calvary Hill? What if he had thrown himself down before Christ hanging on the Cross and begged his forgiveness? What would Jesus have said? What would Jesus have done? I think we already know the answer, or could pretty closely guess. Jesus would have forgiven Judas.

So come to Jesus in sacramental Confession. Come sooner rather than later and more than just once or twice a year. And, once wonderfully absolved, resolve and strive to sin no more. Though sins can be forgiven, we see that every sin or delayed conversion entails some loss, an opportunity missed.

Christ Calls in Ordinary Time

January 16, 2019

As [Jesus] passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they left their nets and followed him.

— Mark 1:16-18

A remarkable thing about this calling of Simon Peter and Andrew is its ordinariness. The pair are not called through a vision or by angels. Mark mentions no miracles performed there on the shore. We know from John’s Gospel that they have met this rabbi before. Jesus simply tells them to follow him.

This call does not happen on a Jewish holy day, in the Temple, or in a palace, nor at Jerusalem or Rome. (The region of Galilee was an unesteemed place for the Jews and doubly so for the Romans.) Simon and Andrew are not clergy nor scholars, neither governors nor generals. They’re fishermen who work nights doing manual labor. They’re not on spiritual retreat or pilgrimage, they haven’t journeyed for days to a holy mountain of God. Yet Christ walks up to them and calls these two brothers during an ordinary day at their place of work.

Jesus Christ the God-Man does extraordinary things through the ordinary. He makes use of water for his baptism, bread for his Eucharist, and human pairing to reveal his loving union with the Church. He uses our human words to communicate God’s Word in the most published book on earth. He dwells (and waits) for us in every Catholic tabernacle. He makes himself so accessible that, if we are unattentive to him, we can disregard his presence and graces amidst familiar things.

Ordinary Time has returned in the Church. Though not a “special” season like Advent, Lent, Christmas, or Easter, its name does not derive from a lack of value but from the ordinal numbers which count its weeks (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) The color of this time is green because it is a season for our ongoing growth. So let us follow the Christ who greets and calls us like Simon Peter and Andrew even in Ordinary Time.

The Time St. Paul Corrected St. Peter

August 31, 2018

Jesus gave Simon the fisherman the keys to his kingdom and changed his name to “Rock” (that is, “Petros” in Greek, or Peter):

I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19a)

The significance of these things is found in the Old Testament. The Lord changed the names of Abram, Sarai, and Jacob to Abraham, Sarah, and Israel to declare what God would achieve through their lives. (Abraham, for example, means “father of a multitude.”) In the old Davidic dynasty, the king’s chief steward and master of the royal household would carry a key symbolizing his authority. Thus, for Jesus’ Kingdom – the Church – Peter is given the great power and office of prime minister:

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19b)

Yet, despite his divine calling, St. Peter was not always perfect in his personal example. The New Testament records that on one occasion he had to be fraternally corrected by St. Paul.

In the early years of the Church, as belief in the Gospel began to spread from Jerusalem into pagan lands, the question arose of how much of what God commanded through Moses needed to be observed by the Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) converts to the New Covenent. God gave not only the Ten Commandments in the Old Covenant but some 613 religious rules, touching on many areas of daily life, including food and clothing. These precepts were called the Mosaic law.

St. Peter’s vision at Joppa and his subsequent visit to Cornelius the centurion’s house in Caesarea (recounted in Acts 10) revealed to him God’s will that Gentile converts to Christianity need not be obliged to observe the full Mosaic law. Yet others were teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Around the year 50 A.D., the Apostles and other Church leaders gathered for the Council of Jerusalem to settle this question.

There, some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers in Christ stood up and said to the assembly, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” But St. Peter replied, “[Why] are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” (Acts 15:10-11) And the Council decreed that Gentile Christians were free from observing the bulk of Jewish religious rules and customs.

The Dispute at Antioch: Saints Peter & Paul by Jusepe de Ribera

But there was a later episode at Antioch where Peter’s personal example did not match his professed beliefs, and St. Paul was moved to correct him:

[W]hen Cephas (the Aramaic word for “Rock” or “Peter”) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Apparently, the “people from James” were Jewish Christians who were disapproving of Peter eating non-kosher meals with the Gentile Christians, leading Peter to withdraw from table fellowship with those non-Jewish converts. St. Peter, the first Pope, was preserved by God from teaching error, but he was not immune to personal faults. Paul publicly corrected Peter because his failure in leadership was leading to scandal within the Church. Spirit-led fraternal correction is a spiritual work of mercy and a duty of Christian love.

The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law says:

[The Christian faithful] have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.” (Canon 212, Section 3)

In this present, painful season in the Church, let us remain faithful but not silent. Let us insist of our shepherds that these scandals may lead to cleansing through true leadership and effective reform.