Sunday, May 22, 2011

Christ alone is the Way, all others lead to perdition. Sermon of May 22nd

In that day you shall know, that I am in my Father,
and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:20)

5th Sunday of Easter
May 22nd, 2011
John 14:1-12

Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.

Our Savior gives us a word of encouragement in today’s Gospel text. He says, do not fear, let nothing disturb you. Do not let your hearts be troubled. I have come as your way to salvation. In my own person, I have reconciled you with God and I will come again to bring you into the fullness of all joy in heaven.
Christ tells us, I am the way. Indeed, the Lord is our Way, he is our true and only access to the Father and to the life of the blessed which awaits us.
But, when Jesus says I am the way, he means this in two respects: Exclusively and inclusively. Exclusively, the Lord states, No one comes to the Father except through me – he is the only way to salvation and there is no other. Inclusively, he tells us, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father – all who trust in Christ, all who look to Jesus will be saved.

First, exclusively: The good Lord affirms not simply that he is “a way”, that is, one way among many. Rather, he says I am the way – he is THE way, the only way; apart from him there is no other means of coming to the Father or of gaining eternal life. Apart from Christ, there can be no salvation.
Our Savior offers a vision of salvation which is quite a bit different from that most prevalent in the modern western world. The two views – that of the Gospel and that of the world – can be compared by means of a certain metaphor.

First, the world’s vision of salvation: The world thinks that all ways lead to heaven and that, whatever choices people make and whatever they believe, all people will be saved. This vision may be symbolized by a metaphor of rivers and streams. The rains fall and the waters are gathered from many places into various streams and rivers. Then, these rivers flow together and ultimately all the water goes into the ocean – all the waters end up in the same place and they take many different paths to get there.
Christ, on the other hand, presents a very different vision of salvation. The Gospel vision can be compared to a tree: There is the solid trunk of the tree, it is in the center. And, from this trunk, many branches go forth, to one side or the other. As the branches break away from the trunk, they continue to separate, going farther and farther away from the center. There is no final unity, but rather the turns to one side or the other ultimately lead to different ends and to different places.
So it is with the Gospel – Jesus tells us that there is only one way which leads to salvation, and it is himself. He alone is our means of attaining to heaven; and every other path can lead only to hell. Our choices really do matter and what we believe really does make a difference – because there is only one path to heaven, and we must follow the Lord if we desire to come to eternal life with God.

When we consider this truth – that it is only through Christ and his Church that any may hope to come to salvation – we must not become over-confident. It is true, we have been blessed to be gathered into the household of the faith. We are blessed to believe in the Gospel. But, on the other hand, as we each examine our consciences, we quickly recognize that there are many ways (both big and small) in which we do not follow Christ, but instead seek happiness in other things.
A good question for our personal examination might be this: When was the last time I read a spiritual book that was written by a saint? There are so many silly books out there which promote all sorts of sentimental spiritualities – but when was the last time I read any book at all which was written by a saint? Have I ever read a book that was written by a saint? If not, it’s time to pick one up and to get started! We have the gift of the Catholic spiritual tradition, why would we look to anything else? Why waste our time with self-help books, when we have the true faith?

Again, consider all the pseudo-spirituality which is promoted through the new age movement and also through the modern fascination with eastern spiritualities and philosophies. Why look to thinks like eastern mediations? Why turn to Zen, Centering Prayer or Yoga? These can all only lead to one place – and it’s not heaven! And do not be fooled, these are all false spiritualities; however innocent they may seem. They are a false worship. But we have the Gospel.

Christ tells us; no, he cries out to us: “Why do you look to these false paths and false spiritualities? Why are you dabbling in these eastern prayers and meditations? Look, rather to me, for Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” And here we come to the inclusive aspect of our Savior’s words.
Jesus is the Way to the Father and whosoever comes to him will gain access to eternal life. He is come as our Savior and his one desire is that he should draw all people to himself and grant them the true joy of heaven. Because Christ is the sure and infallible way to the Father, he can say Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.

Yet, we might ask: How can Christ say this, when we know that many who saw him did not see the Father? Consider the Pharisees; when they looked upon our Savior, they saw only a mere man and even an enemy. They did not see the Father. So many who lived with Jesus did not recognize him as their Savior and were not lead into communion with God. How then does Christ tell us Whoever has seen me has seen the Father?
Jesus speaks to us of something more than a merely physical or exterior looking. We see Christ not simply with our eyes, but with our minds and with our hearts. Thus, what our Savior means for us to understand is this: Whoever has seen me that is, whoever has meditated upon the mysteries of my earthly life and has gazed upon my humanity through contemplative prayer, such a one has seen the Father.

This is the promise of Christ – if we pray regularly, and especially if we take time daily for meditation on the mysteries of our Lord’s life; we will certainly be saved, we will certainly see the Father.
I am reminded of the wonderful prayer which is often said at the end of the Rosary. “Grant that by meditating upon these mysteries,” that is, upon the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, “we may imitate what they contain,” for the Lord is our way and leads us by his own example, “and obtain what they promise,” which is to come to the fulfillment of all hope when we come to perfect enjoyment of the Lord as our Truth and our Life, in the glories of life everlasting.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How children will save the world. Sermon for Our Lady of Fatima, May 13th

This homily was delivered at the school Mass for our parish grade school (k-8). That morning, the first and second grade children crowned our Lady with flowers. Children, teachers, parents and also the regular daily-Mass-goers were in attendance.

The Fatima Children: Jacinta, Lucia, Francesco
ages 7, 10 and 9
May 13th, The Feast of Our Lady of Fatima

The Beautiful Woman, that is the Blessed Virgin Mary, said to the child Lucia: “Recite the Rosary every day in order to obtain peace for the world.” She also said to the three children: “When you pray the Rosary, say after each mystery: O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.” – From the writings of St. Lucia, a child of Fatima

On May 13th, 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary started a project that was very very big, and that would take many years to come to fulfillment. On that day, she began the process which would lead to the three things:
First, our Lady wanted to convert the whole word – and this is a very great goal and the biggest part of her plan. Second, on a slightly smaller scale, Mary desired to convert the nation of Russia – you see, the Russians were about to fall to the evil communist government which would make it illegal to believe in God; so Mary decided that it was time to act to combat this evil and to convert the whole nation. And finally, the Mother of God wanted to save the Pope – because she knew that someone was going to try to kill him in the future.

These were three big tasks, three extremely important projects: Save the world, save Russia, and save the Pope. And I suppose you are wondering, “To whom would Mary entrust this great work? To whom would Mary turn for the accomplishment of such an important project?”
Well, I put this question to you: Do you think she would give this great work to adults or to children? Of course, she would entrust it to children! We have already seen this many times at our school Masses throughout the year – especially, on the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux and also a couple of other times (like at the Annunciation, when Jesus himself became a child) – God loves to answer the prayers of children. And when a young person prays, his prayers are especially powerful because God is always ready to hear and answer a child. And, of course, if anyone knows how powerful the prayers of children are, it would be Mary – because she is a Mother to us all, and we are her children.
When it is time for real work to be done, when our Lady has a project that is too important to fail, something that simply must be successful – Mary knows that she has to turn to children! She leaves the unimportant things to adults; you know, things like politics and economics. These things don’t make hardly any difference in the big picture. But saving souls and saving the world? That is just too important to entrust it to adults immediately; first it is given to children and then, through the children, to adults.

So, when Mary decided to save the world, Russia, and the Pope; she didn’t appear to adults, but instead she appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal. She appeared to these three young children who were named: Lucia, Francesco and Jacinta. Now I know that Jacinta sounds like a funny name to you, but in Portuguese it is a beautiful name! J
And these three children were very young indeed: Lucia was ten years old, Francesco was nine, and Jacinta was only seven! They were very young children and most people probably wouldn’t have thought that they could do very much – but you and I know better, don’t we? We know that God loves to answer the prayers of children. We know that, if anything can save the world, it will be the prayers of children!

Mary appeared to these three children and told them that they needed to save the world, to save Russia, and to save the Pope – and she said that they would only be able to do this through prayer. Mary gave them three things that they had to do: First, they had to pray the Rosary every day. Second, they had to love the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Third, they had to pray to Mary in a special way on Saturdays. Through these simple prayers, the children would overcome every obstacle, indeed they would overcome the world!

And what do you think happened? Of course, what Mary had promised came true!
First, thirty years ago today (May 13th, 1981), when John Paul II had not even been pope for three years, an assassin went to St. Peter’s Square with a mission: He had been hired to shoot and kill Pope John Paul II! It was the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, but it was before the feast was spread throughout the world or even very well known – and John Paul was riding in the square outside the church in his “Pope Mobile” (you know, the Pope rides in a sort-of Jeep that has no roof on it, so he stands on the car as it drives through the square and he is able to wave to people and shake there hands).
Well, John Paul II was going through the square in the midst of a great crowd of people, when something caught his eye … he saw a picture of Our Lady of Fatima! The car was stopped and he bent down to look at the picture more closely. Now, as the Pope bent down, right at that very moment, this assassin shot him … and if the Pope had not just then bent over, the bullet would have killed him! Still, as it was the bullet caused terrible damage and nearly did kill him … and it was no minor miracle that he survived that day.
And, you won’t be surprised to learn why it was that the Holy Father had to bend down so low to look at that picture of Our Lady of Fatima – he had to bend low because it was a child who was holding the image! Once again, we see that Mary does her greatest works through children!

Here is what John Paul II said about that day: “Could I forget that the event [Ali Ağca's assassination attempt] in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.”

Thus, through the prayers of those three children, Pope John Paul II was saved; and what a great pope he became! This happened sixty-four years after the first apparition in Fatima; and the only one still alive was Lucia (Francesco and Jacinta had already gone to heaven) – but the prayers of these children all those years ago, together with the special protection of Our Lady, saved Pope John Paul II on that day.

The second part of the project also was fulfilled – because, only a few months after Mary first appeared to the children, Russia became communist and many many people were killed. It became illegal to be Catholic or even to believe in God! But the children had prayed and, through the influence also of Pope John Paul II, many people throughout the world were following the example the children had given – so many Catholics were praying the Rosary for the conversion of Russia!
And what do you think happened? Did the prayers work? Well, is Russia communist today? See how powerful the prayers of children can be! The whole country of Russia, a super-power, one of the strongest and most terrible nations the world has ever seen – and it was destroyed not by guns or armies, but by prayers! And especially by the prayers of children.

Finally, we have the third part of the project – to save the world, to get everybody to heaven. This part hasn’t been finished yet, but we are all working for it. This is where you come in – you, the children of our parish school! Now it is your turn to pray, and it’s your turn to save the world – just like the three children of Fatima!
Think of it, those three children (Lucia, Francesco, and Jacinta), think of all they accomplished! And there was only three of them! There are many more of you – over seventy. Why, if the three children of Fatima could save a pope and convert Russia; think of what you can do!

Today, our first and second graders crowned our Lady with flowers … you can scarcely imagine just how powerful a simple act like that is! You cannot even imagine how much that means to Mary and to Jesus! Your prayers – though they seem little to the world – are very powerful indeed.
So, you younger ones, you need to keep up your daily prayers. They are very important – you kids in the lower grades have the most power of all! So, I suppose it would be enough (at least to start) if you said three “Hail Mary’s” every day – this could change the world, if you say them from your heart.
As you get older, though, you will have to learn to pray more. So, now I address you older kids, the seventh and eighth graders – your prayers are still very important and very powerful, but you are getting closer to becoming full adults; so you will need to pray a bit more, at least a decade of the Rosary every day.
Now, you adults, we all need to be praying even more – we have to say all five decades every day; because we aren’t children anymore, so our prayers aren’t quite so pure, or so heartfelt. But, I’m sure that if we pray at least five decades every day, Mary will answer our prayers too! J

This is my point, you children are called upon by Mary to save the world, to save souls – just like Lucia, Francesco and Jacinta. You have a special place before God, and your prayers mean so much. I promise you this: You cannot even begin to imagine just how great you really are! You cannot even begin to image just how powerful your prayers are before our heavenly Father!
Already, you have done so much. I tell you truly, you are bringing salvation to our town. You are making me a better priest. You are making your parents and your teachers better Christians. And look at the joy you bring to our daily-Mass-crowd! Every time you come, the whole church is filled with new life and with a great reverence and love for God!
So, Pray! Pray, pray, pray! And, through your prayers and sacrifices, God will one day bring us all to the great joy of life everlasting.

The news report of the assassination attempt on Blessed John Paul II

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

As you walk along the way, Christ is passing by. Sermon of May 8th

3rd Sunday of Easter
May 8th, 2011
Luke 24:13-35

Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?

I would like to share with you a very personal story from my time in seminary. In fact, I want to tell you about an experience I had in confession while I was training for the priesthood. You see, all the seminarians go to confession at least once each month; many of us even would go every week. And the seminary has older, experienced, and wise priests who assist the seminarians in the spiritual life and who are available for the sacrament of reconciliation.

I recall on time when I went to confession to one of these wise old monsignors, a holy and devout man – and, before we began the confession, he told me that we would read a passage of the Scriptures and listen to what the Lord had to say to me in the sacrament.
The old priest proceeded to open the Bible at random and, in a manner with which I am sure many of you are familiar, he read the first passage that he came to. For my part, I prayed to the good Lord that I might be open to hear what he wanted to tell me through this Bible verse.
But the passage the monsignor began to read was like one of those obscure parts of the Old Testament – something like, “So and so begot so and so who begot so and so who begot so and so …” and so forth. I’ll be honest, I could not immediately see what this passage had to do with my life or how the Lord was speaking to me through it. So I prayed, “Lord open my heart and my mind to hear your voice.”
Well, the priest finished the passage, closed the Bible and sat back in prayer. I could tell he was moved by the Holy Spirit and that whatever he said next would be filled with wisdom. The holy old priest began at that moment to pray – and he said, “Lord … we have no idea what you are trying to tell us through that Bible verse!” J
Indeed, it caught me by such surprise that I too had to chuckle a bit.

Maybe we feel that way pretty often as we read the Scriptures. We think, “Lord, what do you want from me? What are you telling me?” Perhaps our hearts and minds are closed and we cannot recognize the Lord’s voice even in the Scriptures themselves.
This was very much the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not yet understand the Scriptures, nor did they understand what Christ wanted from them or for them. They were lost and in darkness – but the Lord came into their midst and revealed himself. In the breaking of the bread, that is in the Eucharistic mystery, these two disciples recognized the Lord and come to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures.

There are, of course, many techniques for reading the Bible effectively. There are many valid and good methods of prayer – but among them all, one that seems to be particularly helpful in the modern day is to try to put ourselves into the biblical narrative. As we read a passage from the Bible, it may be helpful to try to identify with one or more of the biblical characters – to see ourselves reflected in the men and women spoken of in the Bible story.
As we read of the mysterious encounter on the road to Emmaus, it is probably very easy for us to identify with Cleopas and his companion – we can easily recognize ourselves in these two; how we meet Christ at the most unexpected but also most necessary times. And this is very good – we are very much like those two.

However, I would like to look at the story from a slightly different perspective – it is that which was given by St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest during their Civil War and truly one of the greatest priests of modern times. Fr. Escriva tells us that we ought not only to see ourselves in those two disciples, but we must identify with Christ Jesus himself.
As those two disciples went along the way, they were on the point of despair, steeped in sorrow and lost in spiritual darkness. They are symbolic of the world today: A world of inexpressible sorrow, a world which is nearly lost in despair. Indeed, the great sin of the modern age is not overindulgence, it’s despair! We live in an age without hope and without joy – and, as Christians, we have much to offer.
The characteristic of the Christian faith is supernatural joy. What the Christian has to offer the world is hope in the midst of suffering, joy in the midst of darkness. We must spread the light of Christ, which is the teachings of his Gospel, to all peoples – for this alone will bring the world true joy and true peace.

In this respect, St. Josemaria tells us that we are to be as Christ to the world. When we read this passage we must learn to see ourselves reflected in the Risen Lord. The holy priest tells us that, when we finish a conversation with co-workers, or neighbors, or family and friends, they ought to be inspired to turn to one another and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us as that Christian spoke to us on the way!”
Are we Christ to the world? Do we ignite the fire of divine charity in the hearts of those with whom we speak? Are we as Christ not only to our friends and loved ones, but also to those whom we maybe don’t like so much?
This is the challenge which Fr. Escriva gives us today and throughout this week – That we might imitate Christ and bring the joy of the Gospel to those whom we meet, whosoever they may be.
And, as we walk along the way, may people recognize that in us Christ is passing by.

Monday, May 2, 2011

There is no salvation outside the Church. A sermon on Divine Mercy, May 1st

Sunday of Divine Mercy
May 1st, 2011
John 20:19-31

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

On this, the feast of Divine Mercy, we consider the infinite riches of the love and mercy of God. Jesus is the incarnation of Divine Mercy – he is Divine Mercy in his very person. It is not simply that Christ our Savior brings the mercy of God to us, but he is that very mercy itself.
The Lord does not offer Divine Mercy to us as a thing, but rather as himself – for he opened his own Heart upon the Cross for us: Oh Blood and Water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in you!

Jesus is the Divine Mercy and he has come in order that all might find life in him, through believing in his Name. But we might put this another way: If Jesus is the Divine Mercy, then this entails that there is no other mercy to be found, no other salvation, outside of Jesus Christ. There is no other Savior and no other Salvation than Christ our God. There is no other name by which any may be saved, than the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
These statements are not always popular in the modern world, nor even (sadly) in the modern Church. When presented with the fact that salvation is through Christ alone and through no other, there is a temptation to have a negative reaction. Some might think, “Why should salvation be limited to Christ? Why do people have to believe in Christ to be saved? If God is merciful, why does he limit his mercy by the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”
The Church has always considered such sentiments to the expression of a most profound ingratitude. It is not at all the case that Divine Mercy was open to people through all means before Christ and then, after he came, this Mercy was limited to Christianity – not at all! Rather, outside of Christ and his Church there has never been any opportunity for salvation – separated from Christ, there is no Divine Mercy!

Because Jesus is Divine Mercy itself, there is no other mercy to be found other than that which is given us in Christ our Savior. But the good Lord did not desire simply to come once into the world as Divine Mercy, but he wanted this Mercy to be shared with all people of all times and all places. To this end, Christ established the Church, which is his own Mystical Body.
As there is no salvation outside of Christ, so too there is no salvation outside his Church – for how can the Lord be separated from his Church? But again, this ought not to be thought of as limiting the Divine Mercy – quite the contrary, it is through the Church that the infinite riches of the mercies of God are spread throughout the earth. The Church is the vehicle and instrument of Divine Mercy, she is the universal sacrament of salvation!

The Lord appeared to his apostles and, breathing upon them said, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. With these words, our Savior established the salvific role of the Church and, especially, the sacrament of confession.
Sometimes people will ask, “Why do I have to go to a priest to have my sins forgiven?” This is a horrible way of thinking about the Divine Mercy! We should rather say, “What a gift that my sins can be forgiven through the sacrament of confession!” Rather than thinking of forgiveness as being limited by reconciliation, we should recognize that the sacrament is the great means of forgiveness. It is a wonder and a grace that our sins can be forgiven at all – who are we to reject the means of salvation?

This is not to say that only Catholics can be saved – not at all! However, if ever anyone is saved, it is always through the Church and through Christ. If a Buddhist is saved, he is not saved through Buddhism but through the Catholic Church. If a Muslim is saved, he is saved through Christ and his Church. The Koran has never brought salvation to the world, and the Hindu gods have never saved anyone – Christ alone is our Savior, he alone is our Salvation!
Only through at least a mysterious and unseen participation in the Church can any hope to find salvation. Outside the Church, there is no salvation – but it is possible for many who are not visibly united with the Church to participate in her saving work.

Our point is this: Salvation is in Christ through his Church, why would we ever look anywhere else? Why look to the world for consolation and peace? It is Christ alone who can give you peace, he alone is your joy! Why look to the world? There is no mercy for you there!
Likewise, why look to the religions of the east? Why dabble in things like yoga, zen, and eastern meditation? There you will find no mercy! The eastern religions have no salvation to offer you!
Rather, we look to Christ, to him who is the Divine Mercy. We run to his Sacred Heart, wherein we will find the path to life everlasting.