Come Holy Spirit

Pentecost Year A homily May 28 2023

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the beginning of the missionary Church. Next Sunday we can talk about the Trinity, but today, let’s talk about the Holy Spirit because he has descended today to be with us.

Jesus left Earth nine days ago at the Feast of the Ascension, rising by his own power to his throne in Heaven, where he reigns in glory surrounded by the Apostles and Martyrs and Seraphim and Cherubim. We get a beautiful image of the company of Heaven with the Lamb on his throne from St. John’s Revelation.

That means that Jesus has left us. He does not leave us alone, however. He promised he would send a helper, a comforter, a friend to be with us where we dwell. That is the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with us, really present in the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist, where we receive his body, blood, soul, and divinity into our earthly bodies at Holy Communion in the Mass.

Our understanding of that sacramental presence is why we should try to receive him in the most reverent way possible. If every particle of the blessed sacrament contains the divinity of Jesus, then we want – or we should want – to ensure that no particle is lost or dropped. The safest way to do this is to receive Him directly into our mouths, which we call reception on the tongue. As the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament grew through the centuries, reception on the tongue became the norm – the established way – to receive Holy Communion. There certainly is evidence that people have received Holy Communion in the hand, but that practice gave way to the other practice over the centuries. It recently came back as one of the changes coming out of the Second Vatican Council. Everyone here should consider spending time in prayer thinking about what it means to receive Jesus into our mortal bodies and how we should reflect our beliefs in our actions at Mass. However we receive Him, we really should do so with the greatest reverence possible.

Other than at Mass or in Adoration, the presence of God we feel is really the Holy Spirit. We know with our intellect that we receive the grace of God – that sanctifying grace that he gives us to grow more holy and closer to Him – through the Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation, and the sacraments of Healing. And we get that grace whether we feel Him or not. The sacramental life is a life of God’s mercy, for it does not depend on us but is a pure gift from Him.

So while we know that we receive Grace objectively in the sacraments, our loving God knows that our feelings are a big part of what makes us who we are. God gave us our feelings because he wants us to feel. We are not robots; we are human persons with emotions, passions, intellect, and will. All those can be used for good, if we choose the good.

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Mystagogy and Apologetics

Happy Easter to you all. I say that to you here on the third Sunday of Easter to remind you that there are 50 days of Easter. Thus the church calendar gives us more days in the season of Easter than it did in the season of Lent. We spent 40 days of Lenten discipline preparing for the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter resurrection. And we are given 50 days — so 10 more — to unpack that glorious event.

So let’s go back and take a moment to think about those three days and what they might mean for us three weeks later. If you took up Father Neil’s invitation to participate in the liturgies of the Triduum, then you were there for the Mass on Holy Thursday. And from the gospel that night we read about how our Lord gave his disciples a mandate to serve, and he gave them the instruction on how to celebrate the memorial of his sacrifice. So, in many ways, the night of Holy Thursday was a very compressed seminary to prepare his apostles for their priesthood.

Good Friday was the day of the sacrifice for which they had been prepared the night before. On the Cross on Good Friday, Christ was both the priest making the sacrificial offering and the victim being offered in the sacrifice. And the sacrifice was made to save us from the sentence of eternal death that we inherited from Adam and Eve when they turned away from their heavenly father and chose to follow Satan.

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Good Friday 4th Word – 2023

When noon came, darkness fell on the whole countryside and lasted until midafternoon. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46
Fourth Word 2023

Jesus hanging on the cross, is still an observant Jew. He is reciting the 22nd Psalm; the Son of David is reciting a Psalm of David as his life slowly slips away. The Psalms were the hymn book and the prayer book at the time of Jesus. And so Jesus is praying to his God the prayers of the persecuted, the one suffering at the hands of others.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah. Good Friday is a day of suffering. After the Agony in the Garden, after the Scourging at the Pillar, after the Crowning of Thorns, Jesus suffers on the Cross for three hours so that we can be freed from the chains of death through his sacrifice.

He suffers so we know that our suffering is not in vain. However much we suffer, Jesus has suffered even more, and he suffers our suffering with us. He gives us a model of suffering that honors the pain but also promises a victorious end to the pain.

Psalm 22 does not dismiss the suffering that we endure. The Psalm speaks to that sense of frustration we feel when we are suffering, for in our hearts we seem to know that suffering is an injustice of some sort. It’s not fair, it’s not right. Jesus knows. Jesus understands because he suffered in exactly the same way. He is not nailed to the Cross because of anything he did; he’s there because of our sins. He’s dying for our sins because he loves us.

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Mortal Death and Eternal Life

Homily Fifth Sunday Lent 2023

The theme of the readings today is the power of God over life and death. Ezekiel, speaking for the Lord, says, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!” In the Gospel story, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb.

Jesus is the author of life and death. Not us. If we live for this world, when we die we are truly dead. But God made us for life with him forever. At the dawn of creation he breathed into us our eternal souls. In the fullness of time, he sent his son, his only begotten, to save us from eternal death and open for us the door to eternal life. If we live not for this world but for his kingdom, then when we die we are not eternally dead but heading home to be with our loving father.

Lazarus, who is four days dead – so dead that his body is already decomposing and is going to stink – and that dead body is raised to life. Our bodies are going to be so dead they are going to have decomposed all the way back to dust. That’s how we started Lent on Ash Wednesday:  “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” Our bodies are going to be so dead that we are going to be dust, and yet we will be raised to eternal life with glorified bodies.

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Prayer in Lent

Prayer is one of the three things that we are encouraged by the Church to do during the season of Lent. Along with fasting and almsgiving, we are encouraged to spend more time in prayer. Prayer is recollected quiet time, talking and listening to our Lord.

I think the readings today can help us think about what that conversation with our Lord during Lent might be about. For Lent is a time of preparation to receive the gift of salvation from God through the sacrifice of his son on the Cross and his resurrection at Easter. So the question to ponder during Lent might be, “Why do we need salvation?”

The readings today point us toward the answer. From the reading from Genesis, we get the important details about us, about what makes us unique in God’s creation. It says “the Lord blew into his nostrils — that’s Adam — blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” The breath of life is sanctifying grace. It’s everlasting life for our everlasting soul. It’s what makes us different from everything else that God created. Our everlasting soul filled with sanctifying grace is what makes us special.

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Blessed are the Meek

The eight Beatitudes from the sermon on the Mount that we receive today in the Gospel according to St. Matthew are eight paradoxes about our faith. A paradox is a thing that is true even though we have trouble believing it because it seems to go against common sense.

The heart of the life of a Christian is ultimately a paradox — in order to live life eternally, we need to die to self every day. This kind of thinking makes no sense to the earthly minded.

This Sunday, I’d like us to focus on verse five: “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the land.”

We need to ask ourselves what do we mean by meekness? What does it mean to be meek? The definition that we will get from Merriam-Webster is something about enduring injury with patience and without resentment. A deeper definition — the kind of definition that is taught in great Catholic schools like the schools at our parish — is that meekness is the disposition that results from the virtue of humility. To put that another way, one demonstrates meekness because one is striving to be humble.

In the eyes of the world, meekness is the mark of losers. The mantra of our world is that one must achieve to win, one must make a plan and then ruthlessly pursue that plan to the ultimate victory. For the world thinks that to be meek is to be weak. The world does not see the paradox: the meek look like they have no power, yet they have connected to an everlasting power: the power of the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So what can we say about humility?

Humility is the opposite of pride. So humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking less about yourself. It is not low self-esteem; it is low self-obsession.

Humility is understanding that I am not the center of the universe; I am not the axis of the Earth’s rotation. It is understanding that God runs the world, not men and women.

Another way to put it is that meekness comes from humility, and humility is knowing one’s place relative to God and to our neighbor. It is knowing that God is God and I am not. It is not about me, it’s about him. Fr. Lopez, who taught Fr. Neil at St. Pius X Catholic High School here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, had a sign on his classroom wall that said: “There is a God, and you’re not him.” That is an affront to a worldly person. The humble person reads that sign and is not resentful about its truth but joyfully submits to its truth. When you and I can honestly subscribe to the evangelical bumper sticker that is HE>I, we are on the path of humility. And we will thereby have the meekness that will inherit the land.

What about the word blessed? Blessing in this world is something measurable: it is money, it is power, it might be fame. Christians understand that blessings are the immeasurable graces God gives us out of His love for us. The meek are happy to accept the gift of God’s grace, and they are happy to admit it is a grace undeserved. The world wants to understand, “how is one going to know that one is victorious if we don’t keep score?” The Christian knows that the winning score was posted on our behalf by our Savior Jesus Christ, and nothing more is required of us than to follow him and to love him. Dying to self is all about not keeping score — a paradox that confuses the wise of the world.

The land that the meek will inherit is not the earth that we live in; it’s the new earth — glorified by God at the second coming. The meek do not fear death, they fear the second death that is eternal separation from our father in heaven.

The earth is fallen, which the Book of Genesis makes crystal clear. The meek accept this reality. They understand the ruler of this world is the one Jesus called “the father of lies.” Christians trust in God’s G-I-F-T: God Is Finally Triumphant. The Devil thinks he rules, but we know ultimately God rules.

The lies of the Devil permeate worldly thinking. The worldly are broken people claiming to be whole. The worldly are blind people claiming to be able to see the future. They are ignorant people claiming superior knowledge. They are foolish people claiming to be wise.

The meek know that this world is sliding into perdition, that it will end and end badly. Yet, the meek live in this world peacefully because:

  • they know they are broken, but they follow Jesus the fixer;
  • they are blind to the ways of the world, but they see with eyes of faith;
  • they do not know as the world knows — facts and figures — but they know Jesus is the truth and the life and the source of all real knowledge;
  • they know they look foolish to the world, but they know that fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom.

As we prepare to come to the altar of sacrifice, let us humbly accept the gift of Jesus fully present in the Eucharist. Let us humbly offer our sacrifices at the altar. Let us receive the body and blood and soul and divinity of our Lord in Holy Communion, and let us inherit the land of eternal life.

Radical Claims

Advent 4A 2022 Homily

About two weeks ago the US Congress passed a law that codifies the modern understanding of marriage as being between any two people that want to declare themselves married. In the Congress there are about 140 publicly declared Catholic Congressman. Of those 140, only about 40 voted against this bill. So, something less than one-third of Catholics in that group were willing to defend their faith when it might cause them to be called radicals. The Catholic teaching on marriage is that it is the lifelong partnership between a man and a woman faithful to each other and open to life until death do them part. It is the sad reality these days that the Catholic definition of marriage is considered radical. Apparently it is too radical for two thirds of the Catholic Congressmen to defend.

Our faith is radical. If we are going to be truly Catholic Catholics, then we need to embrace the radical nature of what we claim. Today’s gospel includes one of the most radical claims that we make as Christians: that the eternal creator God humbled himself to come into his own creation and share our humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, born in the manger in Bethlehem and then raised in the remote village of Nazareth. No other religion claims that God became fully human and dwelt among us.

We have the period of Advent to prepare us to receive this radical truth that God loves us so much that he became like us, so that we could love him unafraid. Who is afraid of a little baby?

There is another period of preparation on the church calendar, and we call that period Lent. Lent is a time to prepare us for the other radical claim that we make as Christians: that God, who became man for us so that we could love him, allowed himself to be sacrificed on the Cross for our sins so that we could have a chance to return to the state of life for which we were made. We were made for love. We were made by love itself. We were made for communion with love. We were made for heaven. And, through the Cross, we have a chance to go to that place for which we were made. So the joy of Christmas cannot be fully understood apart from the deeper joy of Good Friday and the Easter resurrection.

As Catholic Christians, we claim that God became man out of love for us, and then took on himself all of our sins and died for us because he loves us. As truly Catholic Catholics, we are challenged to embrace these radical claims of our faith. And we are challenged to fight against the constant efforts of the forces of evil to dilute our faith, to soften it and make it more conventional. Our God, because he loved us, came down to dwell among us. But he remains God, completely other. And we remain his creation, made by him and made for him. As radical Christians, we need to embrace that reality. He loves us, but he is not like us. He is greater than us, and we should follow and obey him.

In today’s epistle, St. Paul describes himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. How many of those 140 Catholic Congressmen described themselves as slaves, especially slaves of Jesus Christ? Maybe 40. St. Paul is the great Apostle to the Gentiles, explaining that it is not necessary to become a good Jew in order to become a good Christian. That was a radical claim when he made it in the first decades after the death of Christ. But he persisted in holding on to that truth, and it was confirmed in the first ecumenical Council of the church in Jerusalem just a few years after the death of Jesus.

Our challenge as Advent wraps up and the Christmas season truly begins is to embrace the radicalism of our faith. The English word “radical” has for its root the Latin word for root. We need to strip away what has grown up around the root and return to that pure faith of the apostles. That pure faith starts with faith that God became man in the Incarnation and was born at Christmas. That pure faith continues with the claim that the God-man accepted death on the Cross to save us from sin and eternal death.

If we are willing to own and to defend these two root or radical claims of our faith, then we should have no problem with the secondary, or derivative, claims like the true definition of marriage. And in just a few minutes, we are going to make another radical claim of our faith: the real presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Polling suggests that about the same percentage of Catholics believe in the Real Presence as Congressmen defend the sanctity of Holy Matrimony. We must all commit ourselves to being faithful radicals, willing to endure confrontation and even persecution in defense of the truth of our faith.

Preparation for Justice

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of God. In a couple of weeks, the readings will focus on the coming of God in the flesh to dwell among us in the Nativity of our Lord. But the readings today focus on preparing for when that same person comes in glory and justice at the end of time.

So I would like us today to focus on two key words: one is justice and the other is preparation.

We know that our Lord will come in justice on the day of judgment. And that can be an intimidating thought. We know in our moments of brutal honesty that we do not deserve eternal life in heaven, and that we only get it because of God’s love and his mercy. But do we appreciate how true justice cannot be separated from the same love that is at the heart of mercy? All the other virtues derive from the virtue of love. That means that there cannot be real justice without love. So let us focus on the love that is part of the day of judgment so that we can appreciate the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of the justice that will be dispensed on that day.

God made us in his image, and he made us for communion with him. It is his heart’s desire that he be our hearts’ desire. What he desires more than anything is for us to desire him more than anything. And because of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a lot of the time we do not desire God more than anything.

How God responded to that original sin reveals how much he loves us. He let Adam and Eve go. They had made their choice, and he let them go where their choice led. Most of us have made a choice that we soon regretted, and we regretted it deeply. I am sure that Adam and Eve quickly and deeply regretted their decision to follow Satan instead of following their creator.

God our Creator gave us in his image the freedom to choose. Adam and Eve chose poorly, but God respected that choice in his justice. He respects our choices today. That is the measure of his love for us; he loves us so much, he will let us walk away from him.

Most of us are here today in church because we don’t want to walk away from God, in fact, we want to return to God. We hear his voice, and we are responding. Because of our fallen nature, we don’t often respond the way we wish we would respond. Because our thinking is unclear, and because our choosing is somewhat corrupted, we make bad decisions. I know I do. But God loves us through those bad decisions. He loved Adam and Eve through their bad decision.

Now there are always consequences to decisions. And Adam and Eve were no different. The consequences of their decision were that they could no longer remain in the garden of Eden. But as they were leaving, they heard the promise that God would find a way to call them back. God promised to call them back into the relationship that He made them for. And he makes that promise to us. His justice is grounded in his love. He is coming in justice at the end of time, but he is coming in love to call his children home. The day of judgment for all who love Jesus will be a homecoming. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and many of us were in family homes surrounded by our relatives. So imagine the perfect Thanksgiving celebration, with all of the joys of family and none of the fights of family. For those who claim the name of Jesus, that’s what the day of judgment is going to be: a day of love and celebration and blessing.

Let us now consider our second word: preparation. Those of us who claim Christ as our king are in a special situation. We are in the world, but the kingdom of Christ to which we belong is ultimately beyond the world. Father Romano Guardini was a famous German priest in the 20th century, and in one of his meditations before Mass he wrote this:

Essentially a soldier, the Christian is always on the lookout. He has sharper ears, and he hears an undertone that others miss. He is never submerged in life, but keeps his head and shoulders clear of it, and his eyes free to look upward.

Romano Guardini

I think this is a great description of how we are supposed to live in this world without being “of” this world. We must always be preparing for life in the next world. And we have to be willing to behave this way even when we feel so alone. The power of the crowd cannot be overstated. Guys will do things in a crowd they would never do on their own. The Christian life means always doing the right thing even when everybody else is not only doing the wrong thing but trying to get you to do it with them. The Christian life is not for wimps.

And it’s understandable when we run out of strength. We are never alone; God is always inviting us and the devil is always tempting us. So it’s a lot of work to be as Father Guardini describes and to keep our ears sharp and our eyes bright. Father Guardini explains the consequences:

When this awareness and watchfulness disappear, Christian life loses its edge; it becomes dull and ponderous.

Without a posture of preparation, Christian life loses its edge. Without its edge, Christian life loses its heart. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans exhorts them this way: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Whenever you’re doing something that requires concentration and you lose your edge, you frequently fall asleep. As Christians preparing for eternal life, we have to keep our edge.

Jesus in the gospel today reminds his disciples that there was no two-minute warning before the flood in the days of Noah. He says: “They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the son of man.”

We must commit to preparation because God’s love and God’s justice are linked. He loves us enough to keep inviting us to turn back and live his life in the world today. But he wants us to make our choice independently. Everybody rushes to get on the train when they know it’s the last train leaving the station that day. We will not be told things like that. So we must remain committed to a posture of preparation every day so that when the last day comes, he will recognize us as his sons and daughters. He will look on us with love on that day of justice, and we will look on him with love because we were prepared for his coming.


“My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus said this to Pontius Pilate during his Passion, but Jesus is King and Lord of the universe. He will come, so be awake. He will come to destroy the creation that God willed into existence. But he won’t destroy us. We were made in God’s image, and our souls are eternal. When Creation is destroyed, we won’t be. It doesn’t end in nothingness for us. We will survive. Somewhere. Either in the bliss of God’s presence or the suffering agony of his absence. If you have been paying attention to the theme of the readings for the past eight or nine Sundays, you might be getting a little down, for we have had two solid months of “judgement Day is coming.”

As Advent begins, we are getting ready for the coming of Christ in the manger on Christmas night, but the lectionary is still talking about his second coming. In today’s Gospel we are warned to watch. I think why the Church spends so much of the year reminding us of the second coming is because the Devil spends all his time distracting us from thinking about it. Who spent this weekend shopping? Did Judgment Day pop into your head while you were online or at the mall? Probably not. If I hadn’t been preparing this homily, it probably would not have popped in mine.

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Vainglory or the Shema

The theme of the Gospel readings over the past few weeks has been a long and sometimes sharp reminder that there will be a final judgment, and the Lord our God is the judge.

We had the two sons, one told his father he would do the work but did not and the other said he wouldn’t but he did. Jesus invited us to think about how words are cheap and how we live is how we will be measured.

We had the landowner whose tenants abused and killed his servants when they came to collect the rent. Jesus invited us to think about stewardship versus ownership and how easy it is for the steward to take what is not really his.

We had the wedding feast when the people invited spurned the invitation. Jesus asked us to think about being serious when we are invited to something truly important.

We had last week the Pharisees and Herodians getting together to trap Jesus with the question about the census tax. Jesus invited us to think less like scholars who think a snappy line will win the debate, and more about the fundamental purpose of our lives, why we were born and what we will die for. 

And today we have the Pharisees step up with a scholar of the law asking Jesus which of the commandments in the Law is the greatest. And today Jesus is inviting us to consider the sin of vanity, or as it is sometimes called, vainglory.

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