Thursday, April 28, 2011

In baptism you died and, absolved from sin, you rose in Christ. Sermon of April 23rd

Easter Vigil
April 23rd, 2011
Romans 6:3-11

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin.

The early Christians would great one another with the proclamation of the Good News of the resurrection saying, “Christ is risen!” And the response, “He is truly risen!” And, for the early Christians, and indeed for all Christians of all times and places, this affirmation of the historical reality of the resurrection of our Savior was not merely the profession of faith in a past event, but rather the realization of the power of this event in the souls of all the faithful.
Certainly, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are historical events which were accomplished 2000 years ago – but they are more than simply this. The death, burial and resurrection are not merely something which happened in the past, nor is the Paschal Mystery something which happened only to Christ. No, we are meant to live in this reality continually, and to participate in it.

There are two ways in which we might speak about redemption: There is the objective redemption which Christ accomplished once for all when he died upon the Cross and was risen for our salvation. But there is also the subjective redemption by which the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection are applied to all who believe in him in every place and time.
Objective redemption is when Christ died and rose, once for all. Subjective redemption is when Christ dies and rises in us – and when we die and rise in him. Objective redemption will not bring us salvation unless it be applied through subjective redemption.

Objective redemption was the subject of the Gospel reading from St. Matthew – Christ was truly risen from the dead, the tomb was empty, and the women rejoiced in him.
Subjective redemption was the subject of the Epistle of St. Paul. Now there are many reasons why we look forward to this reading from St. Paul each year – among these is the fact that, when he hear the reader state, “A reading from the Letter of St. Paul…” we know that the Gospel is finally approaching and the nine readings are almost over! J
However, there is much more than this – St. Paul speaks to us of the means by which the objective redemption which Christ accomplished 2000 years ago in Jerusalem is applied to each of us today. St. Paul explains to us the mysteries which we celebrate at this Easter Vigil.

We participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus – in his objective redemption – through baptism and the other sacraments. St. Paul tells us most clearly, You who have been baptized in Christ have been baptized into his death. Baptism is a dying and a rising in Christ. Baptism is a true death and a true resurrection in the Lord.
In the waters of baptism, we die and are buried in Christ. And then we rise up from the font with Christ who has risen from the tomb. In the sacrament of baptism the good Jesus dies and rises in us, and our souls die and rise in him.

Now do not be mistaken: This is a true and a real death. It is true and real because it is a sacramental death. Baptism is real precisely because it is a sacrament – and you know that the sacraments are the most real things on earth! Indeed, if anything at all is real and true, the sacraments are real and true. Indeed, in baptism you and I have truly and really died, and we have truly and really been raised in Christ. Now, we must live that new life in him.
As the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a real and true presence, so too the death of baptism is a real and true death. The only difference between the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the death we experience in baptism is that the Lord is substantially present in the Eucharist.
Through the mystery of transubstantiation, the bread and wine truly and really and substantially become the body and blood of Jesus. There is a substantial change in the Eucharist, but there is no substantial change in baptism. Baptism is a true death, and it is a real death – but it is not a substantial death. If it were a substantial death, then we priests would end the night in prison! J

No the death and resurrection of baptism is not a substantial dying and rising, but it is real and it is still true, because it is sacramental. In the sacrament of baptism we really die and rise in Christ. And this death is so real that St. Paul can say, The one who dies is absolved from sin. And, since we have died in baptism, we are now free from the debt of sin and from the yoke of the Law.
And what kind of death is this which we undergo in baptism? It is a crucifixion! The death of baptism is so real that St. Paul can say: You have been crucified with Christ!

The mysteries we celebrate in the Easter Triduum are not merely events which took place thousands of years ago to the man Jesus of Nazareth – no, they are the commemoration of events which have taken place in us. For the death and resurrection of our baptism is just as real and true as the death and resurrection which Christ experienced in his own body upon the Cross.
Once, upon Golgotha, the Lord suffered death and gained resurrection in his body according to his proper species. Now and through all time, the good Jesus suffers death and gains resurrection in his body the Church according to his sacrament of baptism – and we, his body, participate in the one death he died for all; with the firm hope that we will share also in the resurrection unto life everlasting.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Let my eyes shed down tears night and day, and let them not cease. Sermon of April 10th, on Passiontide

5th Sunday of Lent, Year A
April 10th, 2011
John 11:1-45

And Jesus wept.

In these final two weeks of the season of Lent, the Church enters into the period which in former days was called Passiontide. It is the time of the Lord’s Passion, a time when the whole focuses most intently upon the suffering and death of our Savior.
Throughout the whole of Lent we have engaged a spirit of contrition and of sorrow, sorrow for our sins and for those of the whole world. Now, in these final days, we turn our attention toward the results of sin, toward what it took to blot out those sins: The Passion of the Christ.

In the season of Passiontide, the whole Church weeps for her suffering Lord. Every Christian is meant to mourn the death of the Savior. Throughout these two weeks, the saints tell us, we are to weep constantly and to be filled with sorrow.
Some of the spiritual doctors go so far as to direct us not to think of anything happy or joyful – even desisting from considerations of the Resurrection or of Heaven. Rather, they say, we are to be totally immersed in the Passion of our Lord. We think of nothing other than the sorrows of Jesus our Savior and, our hearts and minds being filled with his wounds, we are called to have compassion on our good Lord whom we have so poorly treated.

We are instructed by the saints to be so focused on the sufferings of the Lord that, from the first moment when we wake in the morning, we ought to banish from our thoughts anything which is joyful or humorous and ought rather immediately turn our attention to some aspect of the death of Christ. Perhaps we may consider one of the Stations of the Cross or one of the Sorrowful Myesteries of the Rosary.

Yet, as I am sure you are probably thinking, there is a certain difficulty in all of this. As we live in the world and must go about the daily business of our affairs, it is not clear how we can incorporate this spirit of profound sorrow into our daily lives. Indeed, I am quite certain that many of our non-Catholic neighbors would be very confused if all the Catholics in town walked around teary-eyed and frowning for the next two weeks!
So, what are we to do? Obviously, our spiritual life must be integrated well with the real and concrete elements of our vocation. All true spirituality is rooted in the vocational calling to which we have responded.

While it is probably true that we cannot go about exteriorly consumed with sorrow for the next two weeks – certainly, there are many circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to express the inner movements of our hearts – we may nevertheless be totally immersed in an interior mortification.
While we go about the exterior motions of our day in a manner which draws to us no special attention, we may still carry Jesus crucified in our hearts. This is our task for the two weeks of Passiontide: To make a space in our hearts to carry Christ, and him crucified.
A simple example will suffice: Any time we look upon ourselves in a mirror or see our reflection in a piece of glace, we may consider the face of Christ as it was in the Way of the Cross. Consider how his face was disfigured with bruises from the many blows he had received. His holy face was now made dirty and covered with spittle. And then, the holy woman Veronica came to our Lord. She offered him such a small act of compassion, but the love which motivated her was divine. Join St. Veronica and compassionate your Savior so poorly treated by men.

Yes, these next two weeks will be difficult – in many ways they are the most difficult period of Lent. Our hearts will become very heavy with grief and we will be downcast. But, in order that we may not lose hope or become despondent, Holy Mother Church puts before our hearts and minds today a final consideration of the glory of the Resurrection.
We do not hear of Christ’s Resurrection itself, but instead we hear of the promise of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. The Lord says to the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! It is the promise of life, a promise which gives us hope.
The same is reiterated by St. Paul in the second reading. In the Gospel, however, we turn from promise of the general resurrection to the resuscitation of Lazarus. In order that his disciples might have hope in him and might not despair at his death but instead may believe and look for his Resurrection, Christ our God raised Lazarus from the dead.

Yet, even here, in this wonderful miracle of the resurrection or resuscitation of Lazarus, we see something most interesting. For St. John tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters. And, precisely because he loved them he waited two days before going to Bethany. Precisely out of love for Martha and Mary and Lazarus, Jesus waited and allowed Lazarus to die and the sisters to be filled with sorrow.
Even when Christ arrived in Bethany, he did not immediately work the miracle and raise Lazarus, but first he entered into the sorrow of Mary and Martha and the other Jews as they mourned for Lazarus. Jesus was so filled with sorrow at the death of Lazarus that he himself wept – and here we have the shortest verse in all of Scripture, And Jesus wept.
It was only after entering into that period of mourning and of sorrow that Jesus worked his great miracle. First he wept bitterly and was greatly perturbed – entering fully into the spirit of true compassion, suffering with Martha and Mary – and only later did he wipe away every tear and call Lazarus back to life.

This is our task in these days: To join Christ in his sorrows, as he has joined us in our sorrows. To compassionate the Savior who has been so compassionate toward us. To weep with him who has wept for us, to mourn for him who mourned for us.
By joining our God in his dolorous passion, may we soon be brought to the glories of life everlasting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Some recommendations for Scripture reading

St. Dominic prayerfully reads the Sacred Page

The “Biblical Narrative” – these 14 books contain the basic story of the Bible
Genesis (50 chapters)
Exodus (40 chapters)
Numbers (36 chapters)
Joshua (24 chapters)
Judges (21 chapters)
1 Samuel (31 chapters)
2 Samuel (24 chapters)
1 Kings (22 chapters)
2 Kings (25 chapters)
Ezra (10 chapters)
Nehemiah (13 chapters)
1 Maccabees (16 chapters)
Luke (24 chapters)
Acts (28 chapters)
total: 364 chapters

Reading at a normal/relaxed speed, one can usually read about ten chapters per hour (though the number of verses per chapter does vary). Five to six minutes per chapter is a pretty healthy pace.
On average, one could read the “biblical narrative” or the “story of the Bible” in less than forty hours. If the goal is to read the story of the Bible in a year, that is significantly less than one hour per week!

In addition, some other books these could be read every year or so:
Deuteronomy (34 chapters)
Tobit (14 chapters)
Job, chapters 1-3 and 38-42 (8 chapters)
Ecclesiastes (12 chapters)
Song of Songs (8 chapters)
Isaiah (66 chapters) or Jeremiah (52 chapters) or Ezekiel (48 chapters)
Two or three of the twelve “minor prophets” – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (from 1 to 14 chapters, each)
Matthew (28 chapters)
Mark (16 chapters)
John (21 chapters)
Romans (16 chapters)
Three other letters of St. Paul (about 22 chapters, for 3 letters together)
Hebrews (13 chapters)
1 John (5 chapters)
Revelation (22 chapters)
total: 285 chapters

Thus, to read both the “story of the Bible” and also the additional books of special importance in a year would only take around 70 hours, for about 649 chapters. That is still less than an hour and a half per week!

The divine inspiration and inerrancy of Sacred Scripture

St. Jerome, tireless scholar of the Bible

Last Sunday, I gave the third talk in a four-part series on the Second Vatican Council. The topic this week was, “Vatican II and the Bible.” In fact, the relevant council document (Dei Verbum) places the Bible within the larger context of the revelation which is given us in Christ Jesus, the Word of God. This revelation has been communicated to the Church through both Tradition and Scripture, moreover the Church’s Magisterium is the authentic interpreter and servant of the word of God.

Below, I have posted both a handout on divine origin of Sacred Scripture (i.e. that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit) and on Biblical inerrancy (i.e. that everything written in the Bible is true, when interpreted properly).

The inspiration of Sacred Scripture

For the words of God, expressed in human language, have been made like human discourse, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when He took to Himself the flesh of human weakness, was in every way made like men. (DV 13)

            A. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit
Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (DV 11)

                        1. Everything is inspired and nothing is not inspired. There is no error in the Bible.
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. (DV 11)

                        2. God is the author, but the men are also real and true authors
In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him  they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (DV 11)

Sacred Scripture is the word of God set down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In this way one recognizes the full importance of the human author who wrote the inspired texts and, at the same time, God himself as the true author" (Verb Dom 19).

However, since God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God wanted to manifest by means of their words. (DV 12)

            B. The Gospels
                        1. What Jesus really did and said
Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). (DV 19)

The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. (DV 19)

                        2. The Gospels are founded on the Apostles
The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing. (DV 18)
                                                i. Matthew, apostle
                                                ii. Mark – disciple of Peter, apostle
                                                iii. Luke – disciple of Paul, apostle
                                                iv. John, aptostle

Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't be a Pharisee, go to confession this Lent. Sermon of April 3rd

4th Sunday of Lent, Year A
April 3rd, 2011
John 9:1-41

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains.

In seminary training, beyond the many hours of academic courses focused on theological formation, the young men training to be priests receive also some classes in more practical matters of priestly ministry. Among these courses directed towards pastoral work, homiletics – the instruction in how to write and deliver a good homily or sermon – certainly has a central place.
Now, in these homiletics courses, the professors tell the seminarians of what may be termed the “golden rule” of successful sermons. This essential axiom goes something like this: A long Gospel means a short homily. J
Indeed, there is much truth to this statement: The Church, in giving us this extremely long Gospel (which is surpassed in length only by the Passion accounts), desires that we should meditate upon this passage throughout the week. The task of the homilist, then, is simply to point out a few key themes – the Holy Spirit will do the rest as we ponder over these words in our hearts through the next several days.

I want to focus specifically on these Pharisees: These men who were so wise and lerned in the Scriptures, the religious leaders of the day; who yet find themselves, at the end of the passage, in utter blindness. What was it that led these men to reject the Christ, only to cast themselves out into the darkness?
The root of their error is in their approach to sin. These Pharisees did not deny that sin exists, but rather chose to point out the sins of others, instead of admitting their own brokenness. It is not so much that they claimed to be perfect – I am quite sure that the Pharisees would have all admitted that they had at least some little things to work on – rather, they chose to direct attention away from their “small” imperfections by pointing out what they considered to be the grave sins of others.

“Sure,” the Pharisees tell us, “we are not perfect. But at least we are not so bad as the rest, at least we aren’t so great of sinners as that blind man is! Look, he was blind from birth, he was born in sin, he is steeped entirely in sin! We may not be perfect, but we are not that bad – at least not compared to him!”
Sometimes, we also do this. When we say to ourselves, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but I’m not nearly so bad as Hitler or the Nazis, or Stalin.” As though our measure were genocide and mass murder!
Or again, without referring to history but sticking with our own day, we might try to deflect attention from our personal sins by pointing out the sins and weaknesses of politicians or businessmen – “They are all just a bunch of greedy, self-centered scoundrels! I’m so glad that I’m not a sinner like them!”
Finally, when all else fails and we are really under pressure, we may stoop so low as to say… “True, maybe I do have some small faults, but at least I’m not as bad as Charlie Sheen!” J

This is a very dangerous path, however. We recall that Jesus came not for the righteous, but for sinners. If we are set on pointing out how other people are so much worse than us, we are actually removing ourselves from the redemption accomplished in Christ. If we are not sinners, we have no need of a Savior. If think that we are basically good, then we have cast ourselves out from the Church – because, the Church on earth is made up of sinners who look to the Savior for healing, mercy and forgiveness.
This was the error of the Pharisees: They were “basically good people” and they knew it! They didn’t think of themselves as sinners, so they balked at the idea of redemption – “What need have we of redemption? We are doing just fine. We can see!” Thus, they became utterly blind; and, lost in their spiritual blindness, they lose all hope of heaven.

Let’s be clear: The Pharisees are the type of people who don’t go to confession. The blind Pharisees of today are those Catholics who don’t even go to confession during Lent!  How could anyone neglect confession during Lent?!
If we are honest with ourselves and honest to God, we will get to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and we will frequent it often. We know we are sinners, and God certainly knows we are sinners – why remain in that blindness? Why remain in that sin? Christ has given us the sacrament so that we may be forgiven. The Savior gives us confession so that we might be more joyful!

Notice, in the Gospel, the Lord makes use of a very strange ritual in order to heal the blind man. Certainly, Jesus could have healed the man immediately, simply by a word or the slightest movement of his will. However, Christ doesn’t do it that way – instead, he spits on the ground and makes mud. Then he puts this mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.
Now the blind man could have said, “This is crazy! Don’t put that spittle on my eyes!” It is a very strange ritual indeed. But, if the blind man had resisted or refused the ritual, he would not have been healed. So, he does not complain – moreover, we mention that this little ritual is a small price to pay for the miraculous healing!

We also have a somewhat strange ritual. We line up outside a box, then (when our turn comes) we go in and tell our sins to a man who has been ordained a priest. Let’s be honest, it is quite strange. But it’s the ritual Christ has given us.
Certainly, the Lord could just forgive our sins immediately and without the ritual – but he chose to give us the sacrament, just as he chose to use the mud for the man born blind. How could we resist? What a small price to pay for the forgiveness of our sins!
Indeed, I admit that, when we look at these two rituals, we might prefer the mud-option (given the choice)! J But that’s not what Christ gave us. He gave us the sacrament. He gave us confession.

Why remain in the darkness? Why remain blind? Christ wants us to see. Through a return to the healing sacrament, the light of the Savior will illumine our hearts and lead us into the great joy of life everlasting.