Homilies for August 2013

For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for August 2013

18th Sunday of the Year—August 4, 2013

True Treasure

Purpose: To explain the problem with greed, and to encourage spiritual poverty.

Readings: Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23 ● Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17 ●  Col 3:1-5, 9-11 ●  Lk 12:13-21
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080413.cfm

In the narthex of the Old Cathedral in Saint Louis hangs a painting that had been given by King Louis XVIII of France to Bishop Dubourg in 1818 (see the painting above left).  The painting depicts St. Louis, the patron of our city, royally clad as King Louis IX and kneeling before the altar on the night before his coronation.  Cast aside to his right lay his golden crown and scepter; before him upon the altar, a far more precious treasure: the Savior’s crown of thorns.

As some of you may know, St. Louis had a life-long devotion to our Lord’s crown of thorns—a relic he himself acquired in later years, and for which he constructed the sublime La Sainte-Chapelle (the Holy Chapel) of Paris.

I cannot help but wonder at the anxiety he felt that night: he, the king of France, was to carry upon his head a crown of gold, while the King of kings, the Lord of the universe, carried upon his sacred head a crown of thorns.

“A disciple,” after all, “cannot be above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Mt. 10:24).

And the Master was poor, was he not? And not only was he poor, but his strongest admonitions were directed against the wealthy and the influential.

Could the saintly king, at one and the same time, be rich and powerful and, yet, remain a disciple of the Lord?

In the Gospel today, the Lord warns us “to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Now, clearly, our Lord does not say that the Christian cannot be rich; he says, rather, that the rich must be careful, lest their wealth and possessions become the reason for which they live.

It is very difficult for anyone preoccupied by the thought of owning more and more possessions, and by the constant determination to be as comfortable as possible in this life, to keep focused on loving God entirely, and on seeing him in the life to come. The problem with materialism is that it arrests our attention, constantly, to care for material things: my home, my car, my TV, my work, my golf game, my dinner party. These things—none of which are wrong in and of themselves—can nevertheless distract us from our principle concern: the salvation of our immortal souls.

If we are too preoccupied with material things, then we are not going to pay enough attention to the spiritual life, which requires detachment from things so that we can attach ourselves to God.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (which even today remains the best guide ever written for the holiness of the laity), St. Francis de Sales teaches us how Christians are to exercise real poverty, although they may actually be materially rich (de Sales, 123-5).

  1. He urges us to remember that nothing that we own—really nothing—belongs to us.  Everything belongs to God. And, God has been pleased to give more to some, than to others, because he expects those who have more, to use what he has given them for his greater honor and glory.
  2. This means that those who have, must be liberal in their generosity—that is, open-handed to a fault—with those less fortunate than they are.  Nor should we give condescendingly, but with a genuine love and concern for the poor.  Christ was poor, and the poor reflect the face of Christ Jesus.
  3.  He counsels us to go a step further, asking that we actively seek out the poor and, perhaps, even bring them home.  Then, he directs us to serve them in some capacity: to feed them, to tend to their sickbeds with our own hands, or to clean their homes. The wealthy who act in this way are genuinely poor in spirit, because the poverty of Christ Jesus reigns in their hearts.
  4. As a test, or a measure, of one’s attachment to material things, de Sales asks us to consider our reactions when— as often happens—we find ourselves suddenly inconvenienced—as by a storm, or a theft, or lawsuit; or very simply, if we were go to a restaurant and the food is less appetizing than we expected (especially for the price), or if we were to stay in a hotel where the bed was uncomfortable and the service rude. Should we find ourselves agitated, impatient, frustrated, and angry, we would know, then, that we are not as detached as we ought to be.
    It is precisely in such inconvenient circumstances that we are given the opportunity to practice poverty. We have the opportunity to identify ourselves with the poor Jesus, and to unite our very small depravations to his own.

That, my brothers and sisters, is precisely how Louis IX became a saint, even while he was rich.  His personal friend and earliest biographer, Jean de Joinville, tells us that it was St. Louis’ custom—among many other charitable practices—“to entertain a hundred and twenty poor persons every day in his own house, and feed them with bread and wine, meat and fish.  In Lent and Advent, the number was increased, and it often happened that the king served them himself, setting their food before them, carving their meat, and giving them money with his own hand as they left” (Joinville, 324).

In so doing, he wore the crown of gold, yes. But, he also wore the crown of thorns.

My brothers and sisters, God has given us much for which we are most grateful. However, let us not amass our treasures here below.  Rather, let us seek to be “rich in what matters to God.”

__________

19th Sunday of the Year—August 11, 2013

Consecrated and Illumined  

Purpose: To explain the gift of grace, and to encourage the faithful in their perseverance.  

Readings: Wis 18:6-9 ● Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22 ● Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 ● Lk 12:32-48 http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081113.cfm

Few of us here remember our own baptism. But those of you who were baptized as adults, and those of you who have presented your children for baptism, will surely remember some parts of the baptismal rite.

Recall, for example, that the newborn Christian dons a white garment, and shortly thereafter, he receives a candle, lit from the Paschal candle, and is told: “… this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. You have been enlightened by Christ, and are to walk always as a child of the light. Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart; when the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”

A flame was kindled in our hearts, my brothers and sisters, on the day of our baptism: a flame that dispelled the darkness of sin, thawed the ice of incredulity, and warmed the heart to the love of God.

The lighted candle we received, and which many of us still have hidden away somewhere, was a symbol of what actually took place within our souls that day.  Through that sacrament, Christ, Our Savior, united us to himself, making us members of his own body, the Church.  He claimed us for his own, forgave the debt of our sin, and made us his friends: sons and daughters of his Heavenly Father, and joint heirs with him to the kingdom of heaven.

We were also instructed to “keep the flame of faith alive in your heart(s); when the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”

It may be helpful to reflect, just for a moment, on what friendship with God entails. How can we—finite human beings that we are—share friendship with God Almighty? A friendship, in the true sense, can only be shared between equals, because it requires a union of minds and hearts.

None of us, for example, can be friends with a fish, can we?  Of course not! A fish can neither know nor love me!  But naturally speaking, it would be more possible for a fish to befriend me that for me to befriend God.  The fish and I, after all, are both creatures; there is a greater equality between us than can ever exist between me and God. God is infinite, uncreated, eternal, all-powerful, all knowing. I, on the other hand, am very much finite, created, limited, weak, and ignorant.

But, if God, for whatever reason, wanted my friendship, he would have to do something extraordinary to elevate my nature, making it proportionate to his own.

So you see that at our baptism, something wondrous took place: our souls were given a completely different kind of life than the life that we have by nature. We call it sanctifying grace. It is the life of God poured, so to speak, into our souls.  By elevating our souls in this way, God gave us the power to know him in faith, to desire to be with him in hope, and to love him, both now and in heaven, in charity.

To live always in the state of grace is quite simply the most important thing in the world, because without it, we cannot share God’s friendship—neither here, nor in the hereafter.

When we realize the immeasurable value of the gift that our Lord has given us in sanctifying grace, we must become especially cautious not to throw it away through serious sin. What foolishness to throw away the love of the universe for some passing, temporal, and earthly love that can never satisfy us anyway.

In the Gospel today, my friends, the Lord reveals to us the attitude with which we must approach our salvation: “Gird your loins and light your lamps,” he says, “and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.”

Now, the expression “gird your loins” describes the practice, common in our Lord’s time, of rolling up one’s long garments before beginning some work that requires physical exertion and movement.  Soldiers and athletes, for example, would gird their loins so that they may fight or compete without constraint.  Our Lord here uses the expression as a metaphor to mean that we, as Christians, must courageously engage in the spiritual combat, fighting whole heartedly against the wayward desires of our fallen nature, against the seductions of the world, and the temptations of the devil.  As St. Paul exhorts us in the Letter to the Ephesians, we are to “stand, having girded {our} loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.”

The lighted lamp signifies both the light of reason, and the ever brighter light of faith, which illumines the darkness caused by sin, and by inattention to the interior life.  As Pope Francis so beautifully stated in his first encyclical, Lumen fidei, “there is an urgent need … to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim.  The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of our human existence.”  And, he adds that the present age is a “time when mankind is particularly in need of light” (LF, 4).

Finally, we must be “like servants who await their master’s return …, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.”  The Lord’s coming, of course, can mean one of two things: either the moment of our death, which we all know can be very sudden; or, it can mean the Lord’s return in Glory at the end of time, which can happen at any moment.  Were the Lord to return right now, this moment, would he find us ready to welcome him?  Would he find the flame ignited in our hearts at baptism burning steadily and increasing in its intensity?  Or would he find it dark, and cold, and hardened in the shadows of incredulity and sin?

My brothers and sisters, “your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom,” the Lord says.  What could possibly be more important? Let nothing stand in your way!  “There is an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach, nor moth destroy.”

Is my heart, right now, set on heaven? Is the flame that was ignited in my heart alive?  What is standing in my way? Am I ready, right now, for the Lord’s return?

__________

20th Sunday of the Year—August 18, 2013

Not Citizens Here

Purpose: To remind the faithful that opposition for the sake of Christ is part of the
Christian vocation. 

Readings: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10 ●  Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18 ● Heb 12:1-4 ●  Lk 12:49-53
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081813.cfm

In the first half of the 20th century—not so very long ago—the government of Mexico, under the despotic presidency of Plutarco Calles, launched one of the most vicious persecutions known to history against the Holy Catholic Faith, and all those who hold it dear.

Calles, an ideological Marxist, believed that the Church was not only archaic—a medieval relic of the past—but he also thought that she was dangerous to civic life—at least his version of it.

You see, Calles was not a stupid man; he recognized that Christ and his Church were an authority that contested his own. He knew that if he did not try to eradicate the Church, then he himself could never hope to dominate her children and to secure their allegiance.

Radical social reformers and political messiahs, like Calles, always live in fear of the Catholic Church, because the Church, and the Church alone, instructs her children that they do not belong to this world. She forbids them from conforming their lives to its standards.

Christians—real Christians—you see, have a freedom that all tyrants dread: Christians fear nothing in this world, except sin. Consequently, they cannot be controlled by anything or anyone, except Christ.

What, after all, can the world threaten to take away from the Christian?

  • Money, property, assets??  Let them.  The Master was also poor.
  • Prestige and honor?  Let them.  The Master emptied himself of the glory that was rightly his, when he chose to become one of us.
  • Status and reputation? Let them.  The Master was a convicted criminal. They thought him accursed by both God and man.
  • His comfort? His life? Let them.  The Master chose to suffer and to die. In so doing, he forever defeated suffering and death.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ Jesus tells us that he “endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

If we are Christ’s, my friends, then our hearts are free. They cannot be controlled by anything or anyone, because Christ has conquered the world, and he has defeated even death itself.

But here’s the rub: our hearts either belong to Christ, or to the world, the flesh, and the devil—the spirit of the anti-Christ.  They cannot belong to both.  That is what our Lord means when he says that he has not come to establish peace, but division.

If you haven’t yet seen it, I must recommend to you the film, “For Greater Glory.” This film tells the story of the Mexican persecution, and of the heroes who resisted, even to death, those who sought to rob them of the right to worship Christ, the true King, in freedom.

In 1926, Calles declared that the political revolution which put him in power must, urgently, be followed by what was called “a psychological revolution.” “We must penetrate and take hold of the minds of the children and youth,” he said, “because they too must belong to the revolution.”  So what did he do?

He turned the law against the Church, so as to disassemble any semblance of an authentic Catholic identity.

First, he promoted a rival version of Catholicism, which dissented from the Church’s teachings, especially in matters of morality, and which deliberately rejected the authority of the Pope, and the bishops, in matters of faith.  A house divided, he well knew, cannot stand for long.

Second, he forbad Catholic education, and mandated that all children attend public schools. He revamped these schools with a specifically anti-Catholic curriculum.

Third, he prohibited any public expression of faith, even a word like “Adios,” that is “go with God,” which carried a fine for saying it.

Needless to say, the clergy were a primary target. Most were expelled from the country; and those who remained, were forbidden at first to speak in public, to wear clerical garments, and to vote.

But, then, what the people thought was unthinkable, actually happened. In many places the faithful coming to church on a Sunday morning, as they normally would, found their churches destroyed, their statues broken to pieces, the Blessed Sacrament desecrated, and their priest, hanging from the rafters.

The Church has beatified and canonized a total of 35 martyrs from this episode of history—priests and laity alike.  However, between the years 1926 and 1929, 90,000 people shed their blood because they would not forsake Christ.  “Blessed are you,” the Lord said, “when they revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you, because of me: rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mat. 5: 11).

The Church has beatified and canonized a total of 35 martyrs from that episode of history—priests and laity alike.  However, between the years 1926 and 1929, 90,000 people shed their blood because they would not forsake Christ.  “Blessed are you,” the Lord said, “when they revile you, and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evil against you, because of me: rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mat. 5: 11).

The Christian heart cannot help but be inspired by all the accounts of martyrdom. Take Blessed Miguel Pro, for instance. When the persecution escalated, Fr. Pro went underground, and covertly—often in very clever disguises—continued to teach the Catholic faith from home to home, hiding in secret compartments here and there, all in order to absolve the sins of the faithful, and to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Why take such a risk?  Because he was a priest of Jesus Christ, and a priest ought to value the salvation of souls more than he values his own life.

On November 23, 1927, Fr. Pro, a much beloved 36-year-old priest, who had only been ordained for two years, was offered the ultimate opportunity to prove his love for Christ and the Church.  Arrested and convicted without a trial, he stood before a firing squad, extending his arms in the form of a cross, and with his final breath shouted: “Viva, Christo Rey!”(Long live Christ the King!)

Walking the road to Calvary behind our Lord, Fr. Pro also “endured the cross, despising its shame,” and received his reward from the risen savior, who placed him to “the right of the throne of God” in heaven.

You may, perhaps, be wondering why I am telling you all of this.  We, after all, are living comfortably in the United States.  We are not persecuted, and our priests, thank God, are not hanging from the rafters. What does the Mexican persecution have to do with any of us?

Well, I tell you this because the thought of persecution and martyrdom should never remain too far from the Christian conscience.  This is the point of today’s readings:

  • Jeremiah’s message in the first reading was so unwelcome that he found himself thrown into a well of mud;
  • The Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to stand strong in the face of opposition;
  • And our Lord in the Gospel warns that he brings opposition and division even into families.

Throughout the ages, the Church has faced opposition, time and time again; and, in fact, she is likely to see it again.

Think of all the persecutions Christians have suffered through:

  • the Roman Empire;
  • the Caliphate of North Africa;
  • Elizabethan England;
  • revolutionary France;
  • the Ottoman Armenian massacre;
  • the German Kulturkompf;
  • the Spanish Red Terror;

And that is only a few.

Persecution is nothing new to us. “The world, the flesh, and the devil”—the spirit of the anti-Christ stands perpetually in opposition to Christ, and to all who belong to Christ.  When the Lord comes again in glory, he will reign supreme, and his enemies will receive the judgment that is coming to them.

But until then, the battle between heaven and hell rages on, and they’re fighting for our allegiance.

Between heaven and earth / Between light and dark / Between faith and sin /Lies only my heart / Lies God and only my heart.

To whom does you heart belong?

“Viva Christo Rey!”

___________

21st Sunday of the Year—August 25, 2013

The Gift of Holiness

Purpose: To encourage the faithful to strive for holiness, and to rely on the grace of God. 

Readings: Is 66:18-21 ● Ps 117:1, 2 ● Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 ● Lk 13:22-30
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082513.cfm

Notice that in today’s Gospel, our Lord does not directly answer the question addressed to him.  The interrogator asks: “will only a few be saved?”  But the Lord tells him: You! “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”  He may as well have said: “don’t you worry about the others. Your duty is to do as I tell you.  Strive.”

Our Lord chastised St. Peter similarly, elsewhere in the Gospel.  After the resurrection, and after conferring on St. Peter the office of the Papacy, our Lord predicts that St. Peter would glorify God with the martyrdom of crucifixion.  Immediately, St. Peter looks to St. John and says: “Lord, what about him?”  And the Lord answers: “What is it to you?  (You!) follow me.”

The Gospel today, my brothers and sisters, is not so much about who or how many will be saved.  We cannot know that, and God does not want us to know.  Only he, after all, is competent to judge the secrets of the human heart.

However, our Blessed Lord does issue a very serious warning: “many … will attempt to enter but they will not be strong enough.”  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

The basic elements are straightforward: first, Christ Jesus is the Gate, the only way to heaven; second, the gate is narrow, and it is difficult to pass through; third, there will come a time when the gate closes, and none may pass through any longer.

In other words, Christ alone is the way to heaven. The way is difficult, and time is limited. Strive!  What does this striving for heaven, my friends, mean?  It implies action, cooperation, and the hard work of allowing the Spirit of God into, and throughout, our lives.

But, there are some in the world today— sadly an ever-increasing number—who don’t seem to care about salvation at all. They either refuse to see the truth, or they see the truth, but they love themselves, and their sins, far too much to love God enough.  Thus, they choose to give up the eternal happiness of heaven for the temporal, passing delights of earth.

There are others, however, who will try to enter the gate, but, as our Lord suggests, they will find their strength wanting.  And that is because they think that they can seize heaven by sheer force of will.  Don’t get me wrong: we have to be absolutely determined to gain heaven, and we have to be willing to sacrifice anything, and everything, that would stand in our way.  But our strength alone is absolutely insufficient. We must recognize that we are totally and completely dependent on God for strength.

Approaching him like beggars before a King, we must implore the gifts of his grace, which he bestows upon us in proportion to our humility, that is: when we pray profoundly, when we receive the sacraments devoutly, when we offer sacrifices, and when we perform good works for love of him.

Narrow gates, my friends, are narrow for a reason: in order to pass through them, one must be small enough to enter.

On July 4, 2011, when Otto Von Hapsburg, the Archduke of Austria died at the age of 98, he was given a state funeral according to imperial custom. The ceremonies included a requiem Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and a massive procession through the streets of Vienna—a procession in which royals, dignitaries, military honor guards took part with colorful pomp and pageantry.

But the procession halted at the door of a stark and simple church belonging to the Capuchin Franciscans.  An official knocked at the door, from behind which, a voice called out: “Who is it that seeks entry?”

The official responded: “Otto von Hapsburg,” and then went on to recite a long list of royal and imperial titles, to which, some moments later, the voice from behind the door replied: “We don’t know him.”

Silence.

Some moments later, the door was struck again, and in response to the question, “Who is it that seeks entry?” The official once again gave the name, then listed all of the Archduke’s personal achievements and honors, to which, yet again, the voice replied: “We don’t know him.”

Silence.

A third time the door was struck, and the voice called out, “Who is it that seeks entry?” To which the official responded: “Otto, a poor, dead sinner.”

“As such, he may enter,” said the voice, and opened the door.

One must be small to enter through the narrow gate. It is far too narrow to carry in our puffed up pride, our greed and avarice, our lusts, our lies—the rationalizations of our sins.

None of that can come in; the gate is too narrow.  All that baggage must be left outside. You must enter exactly as you truly are: sinners in need of God’s mercy.

The door to the confessional, my brothers and sisters, is also narrow.  Passing frequently through that gate will ensure we can pass through the narrow gate, and so enter our heavenly reward.

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avatar About Fr. Fadi Auro

Fr. Fadi Auro is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, happily serving at Ascension Parish in Chesterfield, Missouri. He studied at Christendom College, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. This is his first submission to HPR.

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