Sunday, November 24, 2019

Getting Ready to Meet Christ the King

Is Jesus the King of the Jews? Pilate is speaking not just to Jesus today, but to you and to me. Is he the King? For if we believe that he is the King, the Son of Man who will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, then we seek to make our lives worthy of his Kingdom.  

Even though, so often, we fall victim to the temptations of the Prince of this World, who lays before us all kinds of false kingdoms.  Worldly kingdoms of power and prestige, of wealth and of comfort, where all streets lead to the worship of me, twisting and turning the truth to make it all conform my will and to where I want to go.

But Christ’s Kingdom, as he told us, is not of this world; For it is the dwelling place of God, illumined by the Glory of the Lamb, where there is no more death, nor mourning nor crying out or pain. Its’ streets are paved with the sacrifices of those who have washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb, the Blood by which he has made us a Kingdom of Priests, destined eternally to be joined in one grand chorus of joyous praise to the glory of the one true King, the “the One who is and who was and who is to come.”

And we are made for this Kingdom, you and I.  It’s the reason we were born: made for the eternal praise of the One who will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, and who will lead us home to a Kingdom of truth and of life, of holiness and grace, of love and of peace.

Not that we have to go there, mind you. Not that we we are forced to choose to wash our robes in his Blood, to answer his invitation to the Supper of the Lamb, or to rise with those who have chosen to love others as he has loved them. 

No, we can freely choose the Kingdom of Darkness. We can choose not to love, not to forgive and not to worship God. We can choose to bow down before the Prince of this world, the Lord of neglect, perdition and sin.  And believing all his empty promises, we can choose “the fiery lake of burning sulfur…the second death,” an eternity “locked in the prideful rejection of God's love.”

Which is what brings us to the reason why the Church gives us this feast of Christ the King, and chooses the ancient prayer that will end the Mass today: that, “in obedience to the commands of Christ, the King of the universe, we [might] live with him eternally in his heavenly Kingdom.”

Perhaps it’s also the reason the Church ends the month of November the same way she began it: by remembering death and judgement and the choices we have to make. For death, like this last Sunday of the Church’s year, reminds me of the end, when someday my body will lay in a coffin before the Paschal Candle and those who loved me will come to my Funeral.  

As I get older, I think all the more of my death, of how it will all end and the choices I will make in the meantime. I often tell my friends that if at my Funeral someone gets up and preaches a long eulogy about how good I was, they should should throw something at him. For those who truly love me when I die will not praise me, but they will get down on their knees and beg God to forgive me for all my sins and lead me to the Kingdom of Heaven.

For those who love us, and those we love…we’re all are bound together in death just as much as they ever were in life: bound by a solemn obligation to pray that God will forgive us our sins and lead us to everlasting life. 

I started November on all Souls Day, by going to a florist not far from Saint John’s Cemetery in Worcester and buying twelve baskets of flowers. And over the rest of the day I visited all of my dead relatives, putting a funeral basket on each grave, singing the In paradisum and begging God to forgive their sins.

So, as this year comes to an end, let us remember the last things.  By praying for the dead: that God will forgive their sins. And while we are at it, trying to live a life worthy of the Kingdom of God.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Saint Cecelia and Gratitude in Suffering

There are seven women, excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated in the Roman Canon. Perpetua, Felicity, Agnes, Cecilia, Agatha, Lucy, and Anastasia, all of them martyrs enjoying extensive devotion by the fifth century when this Eucharistic Prayer was first composed.

A few moments ago we prayed that “what has been devoutly handed down concerning [Saint Cecilia] might offer us examples to imitate.” So what has been handed down that we might imitate it?

As far as we know, Cecilia was born into a wealthy Roman family, raised a Christian and piously carried the Gospels with her wherever she went. Consecrated from birth to a life of virginity, she converted her first husband on their wedding night after which the couple spent all their time burying the martyrs provided by the frequent Christian persecutions.

When the prefect of Rome grew tired of this troublesome couple, he executed her husband and soon decided to have Cecilia killed as well.

According to the legend, when the soldiers came to arrest her, Cecilia converted them and they were baptized, “amidst loud hymns of thanks.”

The next day, wishing only to be rid her, the prefect ordered that she be suffocated in the baths. But from within the sealed chambers they heard her voice crying out: "I thank You, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that through Your Son the fire will be been extinguished.” And as they looked below the baths the fires went out.

So they tried to cut off her head; but as the executioner’s blade hit her neck for the third time, she is said to have yelled out “I thank you for your cross…” At which her lips fell silent, never to thank God again, until she stood with the angels before the throne of the God who never abandoned her.

So what has been handed down that we might imitate it?

The grace to give thanks when they arrest you, when they boil you and when the sword falls. “In all things give thanks to God…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18a)

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Veterans' Day

It is good that Veterans’ day falls in the month of November, when the Church asks us to pray for the dead. For while this day honors all veterans, living and dead, its origins lie in Armistice day, commemorating the end of the first World War, one hundred and one years ago today.

It’s ironic, in a way, that as we honor all who have served our country, it is the moment of armistice, the moment that they ceased fighting wars that we commemorate. But then again, the whole purpose of the armed services is to end all wars and to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring peace to our shores.

For peace is something that every veteran, more than anyone else, desires with their whole heart and soul. Few and far between are the military men who glory in battle as something more than a means to an end.  They fight that there might be no more fighting and sacrifice that future generations will not have to.

Our greatest war time presidents have understood that.  Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation through our bloody Civil war gave a speech in Philadelphia and cautioned against those who see war as grand or glorious. “War at its best,” he warned, “is terrible, and this war of ours, in its magnitude and in its duration, is one of the most terrible.”1

Franklin Roosevelt used to refer to war as a contagion, a disease and famously spoke of his hatred of it. “I have seen war,” he proclaimed at Chatauqua. “I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping exhausted men come out of line-the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”2

And President Eisenhower, who picked up where Roosevelt stopped, likened war to hanging humanity on a cross of iron, reminding us that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”3

All of whose views are reflected in the words of Pope Pius XII, who warned that "the calamity of a world war, with the economic and social ruin and the moral excesses and dissolution that accompany it, must not on any account be permitted to engulf the human race for a third time."4

I can see Pope Paul VI, the first Pope to address the United Nations, proclaiming loudly from its podium “No more war. war never again!”

So let us pray for those who have sacrificed so much for us.  Let us pray for those who died in Iraq, who were maimed or disfigured fighting ISIS in Syria, or who stand guard at lonely outposts in South Korea tonight. May God reward them for their vigilance and their sacrifice.

But let us pray that the need for their service might be brought to an end. That the covetous desires of evil hearts to dominate or control, to take what belongs to others or to violate the rights of peoples might cease and that all might “turn from evil and do good…seek peace and pursue it.”5


1 - Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1864.

2 - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Chautauqua, August 14, 1936.

3 - Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953.

4 - Pope Pius XII's broadcast message, Christmas 1941.

5 - 1 Peter 3:11.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

All Saints

We gather to honor the Saints.  Those who now live in heaven, gathered around the throne of God, singing:

"Worthy is the Lamb that was slain 
to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength,
honor and glory and blessing.”

It is the last scene, God willing, we will see, the precursor of our eternity, joined with the angels and the saints in one grand chorus of joyous praise to the Lamb upon the throne, the Alpha and Omega, the one who was and is and ever will be, the Lord.

Such is the glory of God.  It is a glory we can see even now, as we stand this side of heaven. The glory of a Creator, reflected in his creation, in all the wondrous complexity and beauty of the springtime, of plants and animals newborn and overflowing with life. 

Indeed, each day of our lives is but an unfolding of the glory of God, as we come to know him bit by bit in the wonders he place before us. For God created time, and all time is ultimately his creation, made to mark the passing of all the days and nights of our lives. (Cf. Sirach 43:2,6.)

The Sacred Liturgy, the Holy Mass which we celebrate today, opens a door into that Heavenly Kingdom.  It directs us away from a certain self-centeredness, and focuses our eyes on God.  That’s why the Altar is placed at the center of every Catholic Church, the Altar we venerate with a Kiss and a bow, just as we venerate Christ. And that’s why just above it hangs the cross of the crucified Christ, the Cross which is the Altar upon which the great High priest offered the perfect sacrifice of praise which is our hope and our salvation.

For this is what we were made for, and this is what heaven is going to be.  Not puffy clouds with angels playing harps, but perfect joy, pure love and praise in the presence of the glory of God.  Listen to the description of heaven in the Book of Revelation:

Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev 4: 8b.)

A great multitude of saints and angels, like the roar of Niagra Falls or the snap of a peal of Thunder, praising the glory of the Lord for all eternity, as day and night they sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.” (Rev. 4:11)

May we be found worthy of that heaven which eye have not seen and ears have not heard, but which has been prepared for us, that Heavenly Jerusalem where we will hear  “the voice of many angels around the throne…and the number of them [who were] myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev.. 5:12)  For ever and ever.  Amen.

On Halloween

This evening, in the dark, things will go bump in the night. Demons and devils and goblins and such, many disguised as little children during the day, will ring that door bell and demand a treat, lest they be forced to think up some dreadful trick to pull on you

But this is not the only night that things will go bump in the your house. For if you pick up the crosses God gives us, it’s often a very bumpy ride.

Saint Paul compares it to a woman in labor, groaning in pains from deep within, straining for the redemption of our bodies and of our very selves.

Such straining often takes place at night, as when Peter struggled to remain faithful to the Lord and failed. It was night.

It’s often after the gloaming of the day that such struggles occur, when the doubts and the fears come out to play, when old rages or panicky gasps crawl out from beneath the veneer of respectability that we maintain during daylight hours. At those moments when we are most like our primordial selves we work out our redemption, like Peter beside the campfire trying to choose Jesus or himself.

But it is such nights that make this journey blessed. For when you face the bumpy ride you never do so alone. It is a blessed share in his blessed Passion, which transforms you, deepens you and makes you ever anew. It is the dark purgatory of the living, which refines you into the fire-tried gold he has called you to be.

And no matter how scary things get, rest assured that nothing, neither death, nor life,
nor present things, nor future things… will ever separate us from the love Christ, who is our hope and our salvation.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

On Being Missionaries...

How come you’re here?  Why do you come to this place to worship the Lord?  It seems to me it is for the same reason the disciples came to Jesus.

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, right after John the Baptist has called  Jesus “the Lamb of God…[he] who takes away the sins of the world,” two of the Baptist’s disciples began to follow Jesus.  One of them was Andrew, who, after meeting Jesus, goes to find his brother Peter, and brings him to Jesus.

The next day, Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee and finds Phillip, who in turn, goes out and finds Nathanael, who he brings to Jesus, and Nathanael follows him.

So there is only one way to become a disciple: to meet Jesus.

Now, for most of us, the one who literally carried us to Jesus was the one who gave us birth.

You’ve probably seen pictures of it, or at least heard stories of the day your parents and godparents first brought you to Church.  “What do you ask of God’s Church for your child,” the priest asked them. And from that day they sought to introduce you to life in Christ.  They were the first missionaries you knew, and they led you to Jesus.

There are more exotic missionaries, as well.  Like Sister Veronica and Sister Maria Louisa, who came to us from an International community founded to bring Jesus to people far far away.  One was born in Italy ad the other in Mexico, and they came to Worcester, to lead us and all the the other little missionaries to Jesus, that we might have a personal relationship with him.

Fr. Mark Marangone, s.x., Provincial of the Xavarian Missionaries, was with us a couple weeks ago when Bishop McManus honored Sister Maria Louisa.  Fr. Mark once wrote that the job of each Baptized man and woman is to “make of the world one family” by leading each man and woman to Jesus.

Each one of us knows someone who needs to be led to Jesus.  Maybe it’s a friend or a co-worker.  Maybe it’s a son or daughter who has stopped going to Church.  Each one of us are called to be missionaries, leading people to Jesus.

But who am I to be a missionary, you might say?  

You know who you are? You are just like Saint Andrew.  Of all the Apostles, Andrew is one of the least known.  He is only mentioned by name in twelve verses of the Bible, and in eight of those he is simply referred to as Peter's brother.  He is nearly always mentioned second and wasn’t even included among those closest to Jesus.  His only claim to fame was that he brought people to Jesus.  He started with his brother.  And then, when the young boy with 5 loaves and 2 small fish came to him, he brought the boy to Jesus.  And when there were some Greeks who were looking for Jesus, it seems Philip didn't know what to do, but Andrew took them to Jesus.

We don’t have to be heroic or members of a world-wide missionary order.  We don’t need new languages or great stamina.  What we need is such a love for Jesus Christ that we want to lead people to him.

That’s how we live as Missionary Disciples, obedient to Jesus’ command to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

The patron of this Cathedral Church was made the first Missionary Disciple when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus in a dramatic conversion.  From that point on, his life was one long series of relationships, who he introduced to Jesus.

Like Barnabas, in the bottom left of the great Missionary window, who introduced Paul to Peter and became his constant companion in leading people to Jesus.  

That’s them on the bridge, a little further up, heading to Antioch on their missionary journey, in search of people to lead to Jesus. 

Among their first converts was Barnabas’ young cousin, John Mark, whom you see in a boat with Paul and his Uncle on the way to Salamis in the Mediterranean Sea.

They passed through the whole island of Cyprus where they were less than successful at converting a sorcerer named Elymas (he’s he one embraced by a big green snake), although Paul is seen above him trying his best to get him to know the Lord.

John Mark went home (that’s a story for another day), but there near the top left of the window you can see the tiny figures of Paul and Barnabas in the mountains of Pisidia.

Then at the bottom of the middle of the window Paul is in Lystra, where he told the story of Jesus to a man who had never been able to walk before. But when Paul commanded him in the name of Jesus to walk, the man sprang up and began to dance.

The crowds grew very excited, and no matter what Paul said, they tried to worship him and Barnabas as Gods.  You can see them sacrificing a bull to them. There’s a good lesson here for missionaries: Always remember that missionary work is never about the missionary, but only about Jesus.  The missionary, like John the Baptist, must decrease, that the people might come to know Jesus alone.

Maybe to remind him of this, God allowed Paul to experience many failures, including the time they stoned him and left him for dead, with the dogs sniffing at his carcas. You can see Barbabas dragging Paul’s limp body away by a golden chain.

Above that Paul sets out on his second missionary journey through modern day Syria where, in the company of Silas and Luke he meets Lydia, a seller of purple dye (yup, she’s the one in the purple), whom Paul Baptizes in the name of Jesus, along with her household, two of whom are sitting at their feet. 

But then Paul encounters a quite different woman, a fortune teller who was possessed by a demon.  We can see Paul exorcising her with Silas standing behind him. 

But Paul and Silas suffered for exorcising the girl, as her friends rose up and threw them into prison (if you look closely, you can see rats and spiders in the prison), but then you see the two disciples miraculously freed from their chains.

We could go on and one (and we will in a video we are preparing on these wonderful windows), but let’s stop with the image of Saint Paul in glory at the top, as he looks across the Church at Jesus.  For all the missionary journeys were about introducing people to Jesus, just as we are called to do.

It’s like Saint Paul wrote to the young Bishop Timothy in words we heard just a few minutes ago.  As he spoke to Timothy, so he says to us:

“I charge you in the presence of God 
and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead…
proclaim the word;
be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient;
convince, reprimand, 
encourage through all patience and teaching.”

Proclaim the Word, who is Jesus the Lord.

Christianity is not for sissies...

There is a view of religion, and of Christianity in particular, that it is about the avoidance of conflict and smoothing over hurt feelings.

And while it is true that love is patient, gentle and self-sacrificing, love does not (contrary to that old movie) mean never having to say you are sorry.

Rather, to paraphrase Betty Davis, ‘Christianity is not for sissies.’  It begins in the poverty of the manger and reaches its climax nailed to the wood of the Cross.  It is the very definition of conflict: a blazing fire at the intersection between good and bad, light and darkness, virtue and evil.

This blazing fire immolates deceit, hatred and selfishness. It spontaneously combusts where the weak are exploited, the innocent are convicted and the hungry are ignored.

And it will end in the blazing fires of Hell, which will consume all who turn from love and truth in Christ.

So the world would do well not to mistake the gentleness and self-sacrifice of the followers of Jesus for a capitulation to darkness. Rather, it is but an imitation of our Savior, who gave his life in meekness: the perfect sign of self-giving love; but who will also come with justice, to judge the living and the dead.

Is Jesus the King of the Jews? Pilate is speaking not just to Jesus today, but to you and to me. Is he the King? For if we believe that ...