Villa Duchesne / City House Alumnae Mass 2015

Acts 5:34 – 42 / PS 27: 1,4, 13-14 / Jn 6:1-15

     A few weeks ago I was at a cocktail reception talking with a couple about how to decide where to send their kids to high school. Like any good Catholic parent they simply wanted their children to grow up to be healthy, happy and holy, so I suggested they look at a school who has a track record of forming the whole human person, by encouraging them to look for a school whose alumni have a track record of giving completely of themselves.

     St. Madeline Sophie Barat, understood the sacred work of education, which is still carried on by the network of Sacred Heart Schools, is essentially tied to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As Catholics we profess Jesus to be both fully God and fully Man. He is the fullness of humanity revealing the fullness of divinity. While none of us profess to be God, all of us are human and so if we want to be more holy, if we want to be more like God (the best definition I know of holiness), we will strive to be as authentically human as we possibly can. After all anything that helps us to become more perfectly human makes us more like God, who in the person of Jesus is both perfectly human and perfectly divine. I believe this is why St. Madeline Sophie Barat considered education to be such a sacred work, for in teaching not only theology, but math, history, the sciences, the fine arts, athletics, extracurricular, etc. we help people become more perfectly human and in so doing we help them to be more like God, to grow in holiness.

     When we look at the Gospels we see that Jesus lives His life to give it away. In fact while all of us come into this world to live, Jesus was the one human person who came into this world to die. The Sacred Heart of Jesus teaches us that to be fully human requires us to hand over our life by serving others “for whoever wishes to save his life will loose it, but whoever looses his life for my sake will find it.”[1] The education we have received is a gift given to us. Like the loaves and fishes in today’s Gospel, Jesus wants to take the education He gave us and through the witness of our lives multiply it so we can share it with those who are less fortunate. You see, in sharing the gifts and talents God has blessed us with and which were honed through our education, we can help others become more human, thus leading them to greater holiness and in giving we so often receive more than we can give, and thus become more human, leading us to greater holiness.

     The measure of the success of your education is the measure to which you share the principles of your Sacred Heart education with those who never had the privilege to attend a Sacred Heart School. Your education enables you to give something to someone else and in so doing you truly own your Sacred Heart Education. So today as we gather here around the altar where our Lord shares Himself with us, we give thanks to God for the gift of a Sacred Heart education, we give thanks for those who have labored after the example of St. Madeline Sophie Barat to pass that education on to others and we ask God to conform us more closely to His Sacred Heart, so that in becoming more authentically human, we can become more like Him and offer our lives in service to Him and the world.

[1] Mt 16:25

Second Sunday of Easter / Divine Mercy Sunday

     While Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the United States[1], the second largest religion in our country is sadly fallen away Catholics.[2] As I have watched many friends and loved ones walk out the door of our Catholic churches and into the Protestant mega churches I have tried to understand why. I think the answer is simple; these good people are searching for an encounter with God which, for one reason or another, they are not finding in the Catholic Church.

     I think at times, we as Catholics, forget that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[3] The Catholic faith is not about a set of rules and obligations, but rather about an encounter with the risen Jesus. I think at times all of us come to Mass on Sunday only out of obligation and while this is a good start, it completely misses the point. Coming here every Sunday out of an obligation is kind of like paying our car insurance bill. None of us like to pay the bill, but it’s simply too important to be without since we never know when we might need it. Now, I’m not saying the Catholic Church should get rid of obligations, after all it is these obligations that often serve as a life jacket which keep us afloat when our zeal and enthusiasm for the faith is failing, but each of us should have a desire for a deeper encounter with the risen Lord, one based in love not in obligation. Parents, how much joy would there be in your family if you only cared for your children out of a legal obligation and not out of love? Why should it be any different in our relationship with God?

     Sunday Mass is much more than an obligation, it is the closest encounter we can have with the risen Lord this side of heaven. The closest encounter we can have with the one who alone can bring us lasting happiness and peace. Just as St. Thomas’s anxieties were relieved when he was invited to put his hands in the side of Christ, so too our anxieties can be relieved when we are invited to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Today’s Gospel recounts Jesus spending the first two Sunday’s after His resurrection with His apostles. Today’s Gospel account of the first Easter evening is repeated every time we gather to celebrate the Mass. At Mass Jesus comes to us disguised in the host, just as He came to His frightened friends in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, and gives us His peace. In just a few moments, after we recite the Our Father, the priest will say “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, I leave you peace, my peace I give you,” and we will exchange the sign of peace. After the sign of peace we will receive our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and strengthened by Him we will go forth, to share that peace He offers with the whole world. If we want an authentic encounter with the risen Lord, we must participate in the sacraments where God Himself comes to minister to us. We must remember that “the Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament of salvation offered by God.”[4]

     I don’t know about you, but at times I find religion frustrating. It seems that regardless of how hard I try to live my Catholic faith I seem to fail often and when I fail I feel far away from God. I feel far away from God because I take my eyes off the risen Christ and forget that He is the one who “is the victor over the world.”[5] I forget the truth that God the Father sent His Son into the world to undergo the Passion, Death and Resurrection we celebrated last week, as an act of mercy, so that you and I can be reconciled with Him. While yes, I, like all of you, fail daily; daily our Lord is their waiting to reconcile us to the Father in the sacrament of Confession, which the Lord Himself instituted in today’s Gospel when He commanded His disciples “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Sadly so many people look for God’s mercy but run away from confession, the one instrument Jesus Himself assured us would forgive us of our sins and bring us peace. As Pope Francis so often reminds us “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”[6] Like so many Catholics, I often find myself acting like Thomas, challenging our Lord to prove His love to me. Like Thomas I often want to see for myself, but like St. Thomas I have also learned that I only find the strength to believe when I return to the unity of the Church. Like Thomas I only find Jesus when I return to be with the Church. It is in gathering here, around this altar that I truly come to realize that “faith is joy, therefore it makes beauty.”[7]

     My friends, “each year, celebrating Easter, we relive the experience of the first disciples of Jesus.”[8] The celebration of Mass “is not just a commemoration of past events, or even a particular mystery, interior experience, but essentially an encounter with the risen Lord.”[9] Christ is truly risen, and from the risen Christ springs the sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Eucharist, which gives eternal life to all those approach these sacraments with true faith. “Let us welcome the gift of peace that the risen Jesus offers us, let us fill our hearts with His mercy”[10] so that “in this way, with the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, we too can bring these Easter gifts to others.”[11]

[1] The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Religious Landscape Survey. Religious Affiliation: Diverse and Dynamic February 2008. Available at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

[2] Karen Mahoney. Why won’t my kids go to church. Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Herald. Available at http://catholicherald.org/special-sections/parenting/10172-why-wont-my-kids-go-to-church.html

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. §1, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html

[4] Pope Francis. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. §112. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

[5] 1 Jn 5:5

[6] Pope Francis. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. §3.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers and Teachers (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 31.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

[11] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

Good Friday Stations of the Cross Homily

     At this hour when Jesus was lead out to die we, as Catholics, gather to prayerfully journey with Him to the cross recalling His triumphant passion and death. Today’s ancient devotion of the Stations of the Cross finds us waiting at the foot of the cross, for Easter Sunday. Resting at the foot of the cross should be normal for us; after all it is the vocation of every Christian to live at the foot of the cross. We have no option, “everyone in the world is either on or underneath the Cross. No escape is possible. Some are on it through physical suffering or because they are identified with the suffering of others in Christ’s name sake … others are beneath it, demeaning His crucifixion, ridiculing sacrifice, or being indifferent enough to play games under its shadow.”[1] The question is not will we stand at the cross, but rather what is our attitude to the cross. Will we look at Christ on the cross from afar or will we follow after Him and join Him on the cross? The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion show us that there are only 3 possible attitudes towards the cross, the attitude of antipathy, apathy, or empathy.

Like those who stood at the foot of the cross and said “let the Messiah, the King of Israel come down from the cross that we may see and believe,”[2] many people in today’s society approach the cross with antipathy. Countless Christians in our world want the creed without the cross, they cry out for the Lord to come down off the cross, ready to believe the faith it if means they don’t have to embrace the cross. Sadly we see this attitude towards the cross in many people who have bought into the prosperity Gospel, the belief that worldly success is the ultimate will of God for Christians and so rather than looking for a proof or an explanation of the faith they refuse the command to be crucified with Christ.[3]

     Like those who sat around the cross and cast lots for our Lord’s garment[4] many people today want to be spectators to the cross rather than follow Him to the cross. Sadly many people are so wrapped up in our busy culture that they rarely, if ever, stop what they are doing to practice their faith. Faith for them, is a nice thought, or some kind of cultural tradition that they may engage every now and then, perhaps at Christmas and Easter, but fail to take seriously. My brothers and sisters, if we truly believe that God suffered His most painful passion, as a pure act of love, and rose from the dead to save us, our faith simply cannot be regulated to the sidelines our life. The attitude of those who cast lots for our Lord’s cloths is simply illogical, we cannot accept the truth of the crucifixion and not allow it to radically transform our lives.

     The only proper attitude towards the cross is one of empathy, the attitude of sharing the feelings of the other. This is the attitude we see expressed by the Blessed Virgin, the women of the cross and St. John, who through their prayerful witness at the foot of the cross united their own pains and sufferings to the suffering of Christ on the cross. There is no doubt these holy women were looked down upon for standing at the feet of our Savior on the cross, but they were willing to stand up for the Truth even in the face of controversy. Do we run to the cross, when the going gets tough or do we flee? We must glory in the cross[5] because when we unite our sufferings to the suffering of Christ on the cross we are blessed to participate in the crucifixion of Christ and can cooperate with His grace for our good and the good of all His holy Church.”[6]

     As we prepare to journey with Jesus towards the cross, what will our attitude towards the cross be? Will we battle through the uneasiness and remain standing at the cross, or will we look to take the easy way out by trying to avoid the cross, or regulating the cross to the sidelines of our life. Today our Lord holds out salvation for us to merit with His grace, will we run to the cross or run from it? My friends the cross is not a curse to run from, but a witness to hope. Let’s not forget it is our vocation to sit at the foot of the cross, uniting ourselves to Him who endured the suffering for us so that we reap the merits of His crucifixion.

[1] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 101

[2] Mk 15:32

[3] Gal 2:19

[4] Mt 27:36

[5] Gal 2:20

[6] Roman Missal

In Defense of the Blessed Mother’s Virginity

     Every Sunday at Mass, when we recite the Nicene Creed, we profess our belief that Jesus “was born of the virgin Mary.”[1] This profession of our Lady’s virginity expresses the ancient belief of our Church, dating back to the early second century and universally held by the 4th century, that the Mother of God was a perpetual virgin, that is to say she remained a virgin for her entire life. Even the early Protestant reformers, including Martin Luther[2] believed in this teaching of our Lady’s perpetual virginity. However, due to the strict adherence to the Protestant insistence on Sola Scriptura and the belief that our Lady’s perpetual virginity is not mentioned in Sacred Scripture, the teaching of her perpetual virginity was left out of the Protestant creeds and over time the belief fell away so that today most Protestants deny the Catholic teaching that Our Lady remained a virgin for life.

     Today, many Protestants read the Bible, see reference to Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and immediately draw the conclusion that if Jesus had brothers and sisters, our Blessed Mother could not have been a perpetual virgin. Yet, this hasty conclusion demonstrates a lack of historical knowledge because many of the Church Fathers took up this apparent problem and showed its weaknesses. The teaching of the Father’s defends the Church’s teaching that “the Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary … They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”[3]

     Those who claim that since the Bible mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus,[4] our Lady could not have been a perpetual virgin come to the question with a bias which they try to support by citing the scriptures out of context and in so doing the obvious reality that the terms brothers and sisters are often used for a wide variety of biblical relationships is lost to them. In Sacred Scripture the word brothers is used to describe not only biological brothers but also extended relatives and even spiritual brothers. For example Abraham is referred to as Lot’s brother[5] but Abraham is clearly Lot’s uncle.[6] In the New Testament St. Paul tells us “I went up to Jerusalem to confer with Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, only James the brother of the Lord.[7] Clearly the use of the word brother here refers to apostle. St. Paul is certainly not claiming one of the two apostles named James to be a biological brother of Jesus because we know one of the apostles named James was the son of Zebedee[8] and the other apostle named James was the son of Alphaeus,[9] while Jesus was understood to be the son of Joseph. While, at first glance, it may appear that the Bible supports the modern Protestant teaching against the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin, when read in context, it is clear that the bible’s use of the words brothers and sisters says nothing to argue against the perpetual virginity of our Lady.

     Perhaps the simplest defense of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin comes from St. John Chrysostom. He demonstrated Jesus’ command to from the cross to His mother “women, behold your Son,”[10] and to St. John “behold your mother”[11] shows that Jesus had no biological brothers or sisters. By entrusting His mother to His closest disciple Jesus tells us implicitly that He has no biological brothers or sisters, because if he had brothers or sisters it would be their legal responsibility to care for the Blessed Virgin and Jesus would not have needed to arrange for her care with St. John.[12]

     While it is important to know the truths of our faith, it can be easy to be tempted to ask why does the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin even matter. Our Lady’s perpetual Virginity, while appearing to some to be a trivial matter, is an essential component of our faith. Her virginity serves as a sacred sign pointing to the truth of who Jesus is. For Jesus to truly be both God and man, He must have been conceived through the power of God and not through marital intercourse and Our Lady’s virginity at the time of the Annunciation assures us that Jesus is both God and man. Secondly, at the moment of the Incarnation, our Lady’s womb was consecrated and thus it would be foolish for anyone to claim that our Lady who is “full of grace,”[13] nor her husband, St. Joseph, a “just man”[14] would dare use what was set aside for the sacred to nurture children who were simply human and not divine.

     The perpetual virginity of our Lady matters firstly because it is essential to our understanding of who Jesus is. Since Jesus is both God and man,[15] God must be His true Father and the Blessed Virgin must be His true mother. If Jesus was conceived through marital relations between our Lady and St. Joseph, her spouse, Jesus would be just another pure human man, like you and I. But since He was virginally conceived “by the power of the Holy Spirit,”[16] He is truly both God and man.

     Our Lady, by accenting to become the Mother of God, accented also to a special consecration. At the moment she responded to the angel Gabriel “may it be done to me according to your word”[17] God Himself came and dwelled inside her womb. From that moment on her womb, which had an association with the sacred, was consecrated to God and thus it simply would not be fitting for the Blessed Virgin’s womb to carry a child conceived through normal marital intercourse because she would be consenting to use something that was set aside for the sacred for someone that is not consecrated. The Blessed Virgin having additional children through normal marital intercourse would be similar to drinking simple wine from a chalice that is used at Mass to hold the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, an act that any religious person would recognize as sacrilegious.

     The Church, from Her earliest days, has proclaimed the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother. While some modern theologians have decided to challenge this truth of the faith, their arguments fall short. It is essential to Jesus, being both God and man that He be born by the power of the Holy Spirit and not through normal marital intercourse. Jesus, being born of the Blessed Virgin, brought our Lady’s womb in to contact with the sacred thus consecrating it, setting it apart for sacred use. Our Lady who was full of grace would never have dreamed of having other children after Christ because it would defame the sacred. A full understanding of who Jesus and the Blessed Virgin are makes it clear that our Lady, must have been a perpetual virgin.

[1] Nicene Creed [2] Martin Luther claimed Jesus “was born of the pure, holy [and always] Virgin Mary.” Martin Luther Smalcald Articles First Part Treats IV. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/273/273-h/273-h.htm [3] CCC 500 [4] eg. Mt 13:55-56 [5] Gen 13:8 [6] Gen 11:31 [7] Gal 1:18-19 [8] Mt 10:2 [9] Mt 10:3 [10] Jn 19:26 [11] Jn 19:27 [12] Mark Miravalle, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons. Goleta: Queenship Publishing, 2008) 308- 309. [13] Lk 1:28 [14] Mt 1:19 [15] Jn 1:14 [16] Nicene Creed [17] Lk 1:38

5th Sunday of Lent Year B

Jer 31:31-34 / PS 51: 3-4, 12-13, 14-15 / Heb 5:7-9 / Jn 12:20-33

     This season of preparation for Easter which we call Lent is quickly drawing to a close. In just one short week we will enter the holiest days of our Church’s year, Holy Week, when we will contemplate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Savior. This Sunday marks a transition in our Lenten journey. For the past 4 ½ weeks, through our fasting, penances and almsgiving, we have looked inward at ourselves to discover those areas where we need to die to self but for these next two weeks of Lent, having seen the great need we have for God’s mercy we will focus more on the events of our redemption than on our own penitential devotions.

     I don’t know about you, but the world seems to be getting darker and darker. It’s getting to the point where I dread looking at the news. The news of Christians being burned alive in the Middle East, politicians directly attacking the sanctity of marriage and the family, and confusion with some of the faithful over fundamental Church teaching is cause for great concern. Often when we are faced with evil and suffering we try to come up with an explanation or an excuse as a means of escaping the pain. We try to have the triumphant Resurrection of Easter without the Crucifixion of Good Friday. “In the face of suffering and death human beliefs and ideologies are all, more or less, explicitly doctrine of escape … No doctrine of escape is worthy of God.”[1] My brothers and sisters as we approach these most holy days in our Church let us remember that the crucifix is not a curse to run from, but a witness to hope. Let us not forget that it is our vocation to sit at the foot of the cross where we will find salvation.

     Through our baptism we were freed from sin and reborn as sons and daughters of God.[2] Through baptism we were welcomed into the new and everlasting covenant; the covenant which was ratified by the spilling of Christ’s blood on the cross so that sins may be forgiven.[3] In our baptism we were claimed for Christ, where He wrote the same covenant He promised the prophet Jeremiah on our own hearts, claiming us to be His people and He will be our God. In our own baptism, each of us has been called into a covenant with God and this covenant calls us to love, it calls us to the cross. , which is the ultimate expression of love. At our baptism we became like the seed, we died to sin and rose to new life, but now the challenge is for us to daily go to the cross to daily die to sinful ways of this world. There is no other way for the Christian who wishes to fulfill his vocation than by way of the cross. The logic of the cross, taught by Jesus that “he who loves his life must lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” is a stark warning that there is no other way to experience the joys of heaven without daily dying to oneself.

     The whole idea of a covenant seems like a foreign idea to those of us who live in the legalistic culture of contracts. In a contract, if one of the parties does something in violation of the contract then the contract is broken and it becomes null and void, because the signers of the contract did not hold up their end of the deal, but in a covenant both parties agree to uphold their ends of the deal regardless of how the other party acts. God showed us through His death on the cross that He will always be our God and we will always be His people, but do we show our fidelity to that covenant by the way we live our lives? In just two short weeks, on Easter, we will renew our own baptismal promises, we will renew our covenant with God, but in so doing we recall that “salvation is not from reciting the creed but from the cross.”[4] It is not enough for us to stand up and profess our faith in God, rather our covenant with Him requires us to live out those promises by going cross through the witness of our life.

     At our baptism the Holy Spirit came to dwell inside our heart. God changed the relationship He had with us, from one of external power to one of internal unity. If we really want to see Jesus we need to die to ourselves. Like David in today’s psalm all of us can confess our need for God’s mercy; we can confess that we have fallen, but through the ministry of Christ working through His Church we can proclaim that forgiveness is possible, not from some form of animal sacrifice, but through the blood of Christ himself, who always upholds His end of the covenant and constantly calls each of us back into relationship with Him.

     My friends, as the holiest days of the year are upon us, are we prepared to journey with our Lord to the cross in order to find salvation? What are those areas where I still need to die to self so that I may rise with Him on Easter Sunday and honestly renew my baptismal promises? If we really want to see Jesus we will run to the cross where we will see that our Lord takes the sufferings we face in this world, either those brought on by the world, or those freely undertaken by our fasting, penances and almsgiving and uses them to give us opportunities to participate with His grace in our own salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life, for in suffering we imitate God. It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us? Christ freely chose to suffer for us, now we must freely choose to do the same.

[1] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 56.

[2] CCC 1213

[3] The Roman Canon

[4] Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. Statan Island: Alba House. 2010. pg 31.

3rd Sunday on Lent Year B

Ex 20: 1-17 / Ps 19: 8, 9, 10, 11 / 1 Cor 1:22-25 / Jn 2:13 – 25

     When I was younger, Church people used to always ask, WWJD, what would Jesus do. To be honest with you, I hate that question; it’s pointless. Why not ask, WDJD, what did Jesus do? But even that question is not complete because we also need to ask why did He do it. In today’s Gospel I think it is easy to see that Jesus’ fundamental concern in over turning the money tables, was to show that the temple is to be used for its intended purpose, as a house of prayer, but St. John’s account of the cleansing of the temple speaks about much more than just the ancient temple in Jerusalem, which has been destroyed since 70 AD. Each of us who is baptized has the divine life of God dwelling within us: we are temples of the Holy Spirit[1] so this Lent were are invited to take time for daily examination and penance, to ensure our own temple is in proper order.

     Notice how Jesus cleansed the temples. He did not simply ask the vendors and moneychangers to leave; no he caused a huge kerfuffle. The practices of the vendors and moneychangers had become so commonplace, as sin often does in our lives, I doubt they would have given Jesus the time of day if He simply asked them to leave. Likewise it is not enough for us to ask those habits of sin to simply leave our temple. If we want to root sin from our lives we must, with zeal for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, take account of what is making us a marketplace and then through the sacrament of confession, and our lenten practices drive them from our temple.

     Today’s first reading gives us the guideposts for keeping the temple of our bodies pure. While the 10 commandments can been seen as harsh negative statements from a tyrannical God, if we read them in the light of today’s 2nd reading, we come to see that they are the guide to eternal life. If we pause to look at the crucifix we are reminded that the same God came into this world to suffer and die so that we might have eternal life. The crucifix clearly shows us that God only wills our good, our happiness and so we know that the commandments are not simply arbitrary rules imposed on us by God, but rather God’s plan to lead us to true freedom and happiness. The first three commandments teach us the obligation we have to God’s person, His name and His day. At their core these three commandments ask us the question “who is the Lord of our Life.”

     If Jesus is the Lord of our life, He must also be the Lord of our temple and these 3 simple commandments help us to order our temple around Him. The 1st commandment asks us what we hold as most valuable in our lives. If God is truly primary in our lives, our entire lives will be centered on Him. If we find ourselves missing Mass on Sunday for a soccer game then it is obvious that the soccer game has become primary in our lives and we have regulated God, at best, to second place: soccer becomes a foreign god in our lives. The 2nd commandment asks us to consider how we respect God, for because respect for His name is respect for His person. If we take God’s name in vein, we show disrespect to God because we use God’s name either as an insult or with no meaning. God who is the supreme good should only be spoken of for who He is, Goodness Himself. It is good to speak to Him in prayer or about him to others, but to speak about Him in any other way shows a lack of respect and reverence for our creator and redeemer. The 3rd commandment shows us that our faith cannot only be a matter of words or belief, but must be embodied. We owe God, who created us and sent His only into the world to suffer die and rise for us, an infinite debt that cannot be repaid. God gives us 168 hours in a week and asks for 1 back because it is good for us. Is it really that much? I bet if I gave you $168 dollars and then asked for 1 dollar back you would give it to me in a heart beat. Friends, intentionally missing Mass on Sunday is a sign that something is seriously out of place in our lives.

     If something is out of place in our relationship with God, we cannot have proper relationships others. The last 7 commandments rest on the first 3 because everything in life rises or falls based on our love of God. These commandments express the obligation we have towards others; the respect for proper authority, human life, the acts which transmits life, proper respect for property, and for the truth. The 9th commandment reinforces the 6th by reminding us not to even think about committing adultery while the 10th commandment reinforces the 7th, reminding us that we should be satisfied with having our needs met and not be envious of what others have.

     Jesus calls each one of us to cleanse the temple of our hearts. Do not be afraid to examine your conscience daily. God desires to heal us, not punish us. His anger is for the indifferent and the prideful who have no intention of changing, not for those who are striving to do better. This season of lent is the time for us to cast out false idols from our lives through prayer, fasting, penance and almsgiving. We are called during lent to destroy whatever is evil in the temple of our hearts so that our temple may truly be raised up on Easter Sunday. The whole goal of lent is to make our bodies pure temples where God is worshipped. To truly cleanse our own temple we need to take a deep look at our lives and see where our priorities lie. Is Jesus truly the center of my life? Is it possible that some serious cleaning needs to be done in my life? Do I need to seek that cleaning in the sacrament of confession? As we approach this altar and prepare to receive our Lord let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and overturn those areas in our lives where we make the temple of our hearts a marketplace, rather then a proper place to worship God.

[1] 1 Cor 6:19

The Crucifix is the Sign of our Hope: A Lenten Reflection

A Lenten Reflection Presented at the Conclusion of the Stations of the Cross.

     Having just celebrated the beautiful devotion of the Stations of the Cross, we have been blessed to walk the path of Calvary with our Lord while meditating on His great salvific act. This ancient devotion leaves us at the foot of the cross awaiting the resurrection on Easter Sunday. In meditating on the Stations of the Cross, I cannot help but be brought back just two months ago to when I physically walked the same way of the cross in the ancient city of Jerusalem. As I finished walking the stations and arrived at the exact place where our Lord was crucified I found myself simply kneeling before the cross. I’m not sure what kept me at the foot of the cross, after all the next logical step would have been to walk across the basilica to the Sepulcher itself, but I found myself simply drawn to stay up at Calvary. As I meditated on the biblical account of the crucifixion I realized, this is the life we, as Christians, are called to live; we are called to live at the foot of the cross, so that we too, one day, may rise with Him to eternal life.

     As luck would have it on my return flight to St. Louis from Jerusalem, my cabin was located right across from a very kind Protestant gentleman who wanted to know why we as Catholics use a crucifix and not a cross in our churches. He wanted to know why we have images of the bloody and beaten Christ while Protestants only have images of the risen Christ. If we, as Christians, are called to be an Easter people, why do we need to display the passion, why not simply display the resurrection?

     Certainly we are an Easter people, in fact this whole season of Lent concludes in the octave of Easter the greatest feast of the Church year, but we who are undertaking our fasting, penances and mortifications are well aware that there is no resurrection with out the passion and so there is no need to run from Christ on the cross. St. Paul reminds us that we are heirs to Christ and if we wish to rise with Christ we must first die with Him. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians says he wants “to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[1] Simply put, just as Christ freely endured His passion and death, so too we are called to endure suffering and death so that we may rise with Him. Friends “the cross alone is a symbol of absurdity: the contradiction of the vertical bar of life by the horizontal bar of death. Only by putting someone on the cross Who can make death the contradiction of life does one ever escape the absurdity of life.”[2]

     In reality there are only three possible attitudes towards the cross.[3] The first is an attitude of antipathy towards the cross, these people, like those who stood at the foot of Christ and said “let the Messiah, the King of Israel come down from the cross that we may see and believe,”[4]  want the creed without the cross. These people crying out for our Lord to come down off the cross were ready to believe, but they were not willing to embrace the cross. Sadly today many people have bought into the prosperity gospel, the belief that worldly success is the will of God for Christians and they have taken this attitude towards the cross. They are not looking for proof or an explanation of the faith, but rather are refusing to obey the command to be crucified with Christ. The second attitude is one of apathy. Like those who sat around the cross and cast lots for our Lord’s cloths[5] many people today want to be spectators to the cross rather than follow Christ to the cross. The third and proper attitude is one of empathy, which we see in the Blessed Virgin and the women who stood at the foot of the cross. Friends we have no option “everyone in the world is either on or underneath the Cross. No escape is possible. Some are on it through actual physical suffering or because they are identified with the suffering of others in Christ’s name sake … Others are beneath it, demanding His crucifixion, ridiculing sacrifice or being indifferent enough to play games under its shadow.”[6] What is our attitude towards the cross? Are we on the cross or are we underneath it?

     When we as Catholics take the attitude of empathy towards the crucifixion the problem of pain and suffering no longer seems like a problem. Suffering came into the world as a result of sin,[7] and while God could have left us alone to our own devices, He does not stand off in the distance and watch mankind suffer; rather He enters into our suffering. Christ experienced the many hardships of man, suffering with us, even to the point of death on a cross. The image of the crucifix thus invites us to enter into suffering for our own salvation and reminds us that even in the midst of our suffering Christ is their present with us.

     While the crucifix may appear to be a moment of weakness for God it is not. A closer look shows us that Christ transformed what appeared to be the moment of His greatest physical weakness into His greatest act, the act of redemption. This paradox applies to us as well. Even in our greatest sufferings we can offer them to God and they can become the cause of our redemption. While we may be called to endure many hardships we can have confidence that if we enter them in faith with Christ we will be victorious because Christ has already won the battle through His resurrection from the dead.

     St. Paul reminds us that we are to glory in the cross. “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”[8] When we unite our sufferings to the suffering of Christ on the cross we are blessed to participate in the crucifixion of Christ and can cooperate with His suffering for the salvation of souls. St. Paul is clear “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”[9]

      I don’t know about you, but the world seems to be getting darker and darker. Now I’m not one who tries to predict the future but if I was one of those people, I think my crystal ball would be telling me the end of the world must be near. As we pray the Stations of the Cross and kneel before our Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament I cannot help but once again realize the great sins that are present in our world and even in our Church. It’s getting to the point where things are so awful in the world today that I dread looking at the news. The news of Christians being burned alive by Islamic terrorists, politicians directly attacking the sanctity of marriage and the family, and confusion with some of the faithful over fundamental Church teaching is cause for great concern. God certainly has the power to remove all suffering from our life, but if He removed suffering from our life, He would take away our ability to choose, which would also take away our ability to love Him and others, so God did the next best thing, He made suffering the means of our salvation. “Christ took our painful condition and made of it the way of true life.”[10]

     Christ’s great act of love came at the price of the greatest human suffering. The crucifix teaches us to love one must suffer. The crucifix is a stark reminder that “God is a sufferer because he is a lover; the entire theme of the suffering God flows from that of the Loving God and always points back to it.”[11] “While we can often fall into the trap of believing that suffering is a bad thing, our Lord has transformed suffering into the means of our salvation for the fact that God allowed His son to die “shows two things very clearly. The first is that suffering and even total ruin do not signify a lack of love on the part of the Father. The second is that suffering is not in vain; it bears fruit and has redeeming power.”[12] This understanding of the truth of the crucifixion makes it clear that to reject the image of the crucifix is to radically change the meaning of Christianity.

     While suffering is by its very nature painful, we must realize the necessity of suffering. We are called to be people of hope, yet without suffering we would not know what hope is and a superficial desire for hope is a superficial desire for happiness. Through suffering we can learn to place our complete trust, not in the things of this world, but in God. As we journeyed the way of the cross we commemorated the truth that the crucifix is the seed of the tree of life which leads to the blossoming of new hope. It seems that through suffering greatness shines through. God permits suffering then works greatness through it. “Suffering is never a reason for discouragement or lack of confidence in God since it proves the truth of his love for us.”[13]

     Our Lord takes the sufferings we face in this world, either those brought on by the world, or those freely undertaken by our fasting, penances and almsgiving and uses them to give us opportunities to participate with His grace in our own salvation and the salvation of others in the Church. You see “ultimately, far from ruining Christian hope, suffering is advantageous for it; it is even necessary. Without it, hope would be vague, an ill-defined yearning for happiness.”[14] It is only because we suffer that we can hold out hope for eternal life for in suffering we imitate God. Since God came into this world to suffer for us we need to follow His example and rigorously undertake acts of fasting, mortification and almsgiving. It was Christ’s suffering that lead to His resurrection. Why should it be any different for us?

     Often when we are faced with evil and suffering we try to come up with an explanation or an excuse as a means of escaping the pain. We try to have the triumphant cross of Easter without the crucifixion of Good Friday. “In the face of suffering and death human beliefs and ideologies are all, more or less, explicitly doctrine of escape … No doctrine of escape is worthy of God.”[15] My brothers and sisters the crucifix is not a curse to run from, but a witness to hope so as we continue this season of lent rather than run from the crucifix, let us run towards it through our fasting, penances and almsgiving.

[1] Phil 3:10

[2] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 102

[3] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 100 – 101

[4] Mk 15: 32

[5] Mt 27:36

[6] Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Those Mysterious Priests. New York: The Alba House, 2005. pg. 101

[7] Rom 5:12

[8] Gal 6:14

[9] Gal 2:20

[10] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 20.

[11] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Behold the Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (1986) pg 33.

[12] Wilfrid Stinssen. Into Your Hands, Father Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us. San Francisco: Ignatius Press 2011. pg 15

[13] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 56.

[14] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 57.

[15] Cardinal Albert Vanhoe. Our Priest is Christ. (1969) pg. 56.