2018-02-18 First Sunday of Lent

February 18, 2018

18 February 2018

First Sunday of Lent

Mark 1:12-15 + Homily

18 Minutes 57 Seconds

(from the parish bulletin)

An engineer in Alexandria named Ctesibius is said to have invented the pipe organ around 265 B.C., originally an “hydraulis” using water to raise air pressure. Although there was a “water organ” in the narthex of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for heralding the Emperor, one theory holds that organs are not commonly used in the Byzantine rite because they are reminders of the horrors endured by the holy martyrs as pagan entertainment. There were many places in the various circuses and amphitheaters throughout the Empire where these spectacles took place. Possibly the first to be sentenced to the damnatio ad bestias, or being fed to wild beasts, in the Flavian amphitheater of the Colosseum of Rome, was Ignatius, bishop of Antioch.

   On February 24, that Colosseum will be floodlit red, along with churches in Syria and Iraq, to publicize the persecution of Christians in our own day. The sponsoring organization, Aid to the Church in Need, reports that in a dozen countries, conspicuously in Egypt and Turkey, anti-Christian persecution has reached a new peak. The situation has worsened in Nepal since new “blasphemy” laws were introduced. While crowds applaud the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to the sound of music, around 70,000 Christians are languishing in North Korean labor camps. There is a faint echo here of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, but at least they had Jesse Owens.

   Floodlighting may be one vivid way to awaken the attention of people in more comfortable lands to what is happening. Much of our media, as they either willfully or uncomprehendingly ignore the persecution, are like the idols that “have mouths but cannot speak; eyes, but cannot see; ears, but cannot hear” (Psalm 115:5-6). Looking the other way can become a habit. For instance, much of the world ignored the deportations by the Nazis in 1942 from Lyons, France, when those marked for death were herded into the same Colosseum where the saints Blandina, Ponthinius, Epidodius and Alexander were brutalized in the second century.

   The modest abstinences and disciplines of Lent should awaken the senses to perceive things of God more clearly. They can also alert somnolent consciences to harsh realities in other parts of the Church. In Holy Week the Church will remember how Christ awakened the three apostles as they slept through his agony. Pascal said, “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” It was the triumphant risen Lord who asked Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?”—for heaven does not ignore earth: “… to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). The Resurrection acclamation, “Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! – Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands!” was inscribed on the obelisk that is now in St. Peter’s Square, but that once stood in the Circus of Nero and cast its shadow on the suffering martyrs.

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2018-02-11 Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

February 11, 2018

11 February 2018

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Mark 1:40-45 + Homily 15 Minutes 45 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

There are different theories as to why Schubert did not finish the Unfinished Symphony. Although his Symphony in B minor lacks two movements, it has two. And explaining why it began is as challenging as explaining why it did not end. Mozart did not finish his Requiem for the simple reason that he died. That also is why Thucydides did not finish his History of the Peloponnesian War, Raphael’s Transfiguration was incomplete, Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus was left for Titian to complete, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov had unrealized chapters.

   A Roman soldier’s sword prevented Archimedes from resolving a mathematical problem. Chaucer did not finish his Canterbury Tales because he had to go back to work as a clerk in the Port of London, and Spenser did not finish the last six books of The Faerie Queene for political reasons. Coleridge could not complete his Kubla Khan because someone awoke him from a laudanum stupor. Perhaps the arrival of Alessandro de’ Medici caused Michelangelo to quit Florence without finishing the statue that still puzzles experts, who are not sure if it is Apollo or David. We do know that Donatello deliberately used his non finito technique to give a kind of emerging vitality to his figures.

   Artists rarely think that they have completed a work. Tolkien, for example, kept re-writing The Silmarillion. At least they have an intuition, a mental sense, of what should be realized with paint or pen. But if life has no goal, there is nothing to complete. Chesterton said that man has always been lost, but modern man has lost his address and cannot return home. Far different was Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). His faith was trust that life has a goal, and it is realized in the eternal existence offered by the Creator who made us in his image. “In him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:10).

   The days of Lent are like signposts toward the goal. Meanwhile, we are “works in progress.” The question is, “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3). When Ash Wednesday is coincident with St. Valentine’s Day, there is a stark contrast between love and sentiment. The martyr Valentine loved so much that he sacrificed his life for the love of God. To reduce him to some sort of cupid, is never to finish the picture.

   The world’s greatest Lover shouted from the cross: “It is finished!” That tetelestai is an accounting term meaning “paid in full.” The Son cried out to the Father that he had paid the debt incurred by human pride. It is what every composer, painter, writer or scientist wants to be able to say, but can only be said satisfactorily when Christ is seen “face to face, and not as a stranger” (1 John 3:2).

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2018-02-04 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2018

4 February 2018

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1:29-39 + Homily 16 Minutes 58 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

As a demographic cohort, “Millennials” are the last generation to have been born in the twentieth century. By conventional assessment, they are agile with technology, shaped by social media, self-absorbed, fixed in the moment and ignorant of history, morally immature and unaware that they have been shortchanged by inadequate and polemical educators. They are as vulnerable as Shakespeare’s “wealthy curlèd darlings of our nation.” Their lack of reason and their subservience to political correctness, can be astonishing. But these are generalizations, and one can be just as astonished by the integrity and spiritual vigor of many who are lumped together with their superficial contemporaries.

   There has been a big drop in religious commitment among the Millennials, but youths predictably assert their independence and return to serious thoughts about God later on. What seems to be an abandonment of faith, may largely be due to the delay in maturation and marrying and the assumption of other responsibilities. Of those who lack a religious outlook, nearly ninety percent were never reared in a stable environment. The large number of Millennials who embrace Christianity are outnumbering the “Baby Boomers” who were warped by the trauma of the psychedelic 1960’s. They react against the moral chaos they have lived through in their own broken homes and decaying culture.

   Many so-called mainline denominations are collapsing, but these almost invariably are those that have tried to “keep up with the Spirit of the Age” rather than with the Holy Spirit. Quoting one sociologist: “When the so-called ‘progressive’ churches question the historicity of Jesus, deny the reality of sin, support abortion, ordain clergy in same-sex relationships and perform their marriages, people desiring real Christianity head elsewhere.”

   A joint study by researchers at Indiana and Harvard universities contradicts the impression that religion is in decline. The number of Americans who are the most vigorous in prayer and worship is actually increasing, from 39 percent in 1989 to 47 percent today. And another study estimates that the percentage of Americans who attend church regularly is four times greater today than it was in 1776.

   Young people who engage in healthy friendships and religious worship, and who work responsibly, are far happier than those who spend a lot of time on the Internet. For Socratic philosophers before Christ, the goal of life was eudaimonia, or “happiness of soul.” Virtue alone could not attain that. “Fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) is to be found in Christ (John 17:13; 1 Peter 1:8-9).

   Saint Augustine said that “happiness is itself a joy in the truth, and this is a truth in you, God, who are the truth . . .” For the Christian, happiness is not an option; it is an obligation. In some ways the young Augustine—like many Millennials—had been absorbed in himself,  but divine grace pulled him out of that, and none too soon: “Late have I loved thee, beauty ever ancient ever new.”

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2018-01-28 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018

28 January 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1:21-28 + Homily

16 Minutes 16 Seconds

 

(From the parish bulletin)

The German word “kitsch” is hard to define, other than “tacky” or “tasteless,” but as Justice Potter Stewart said of prurience, “I know it when I see it.” It is indulged sometimes even by pious Catholics. Examples of kitsch abound in the sculpture garden of the United Nations. My favorite is a huge Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver with a twisted barrel by the Swedish sculptor Carl Reuterswärd. It runs afoul of the dictum vaguely attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “Those who hammer their guns into plows, will plow for those who do not.” There is one superior work, albeit by the Soviet Realist Yevgeny Vuchetich, showing a man hammering a sword into the shape of a plowshare.

    That allusion, of course, is to verses in Isaiah, Joel and Micah. Communists could pick and choose bits of the Bible when convenient. The Prince of Peace warned that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), but he also told his disciples to buy swords (Luke 22:36) and warned: “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The apparent contradiction is resolved by understanding that Christ speaks of swords both as defensive weapons and, more intensely, as representative of moral suffering.

   At the Presentation of Christ, Simeon told Our Lady that a sword would someday pierce her heart. This was fulfilled at the Crucifixion, for if there is a pain that can be as hard as physical suffering, it is the empathy one feels when watching the suffering of a loved one.

   There is much suffering in the Church, and Our Lady of Sorrows endures that, for she is Mother of the Church. In the order of places where Christians are being tormented now, North Korea ranks first, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran, in a list that is not exhaustive.

   As Our Lady was virtually abandoned at the foot of the Cross, so have those who are suffering atrocities and genocide been scandalously ignored by many in the West until recently. Our government has announced that it will stop the State Department’s policy of directing all relief funds through ineffective agencies of the United Nations, and will work with private organizations to aid vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.

   St. John Paul II said that Simeon’s prediction confirms Mary’s “faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, [while] on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”

   As the pen is mightier than the sword, in Bulwer-Lytton’s adage, so is Christ the Living Word more acute and powerful than any sword that pierces those who love him.

 

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2018-01-21 Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 21, 2018

21 January 2018

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1-:14-20 + Homily

15 Minutes 11 Seconds

 

(From the parish bulletin)

In the late 1990s I watched the rebuilding of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, replicating the nineteenth-century cathedral that had been dynamited by Stalin in 1931. It can hold an estimated ten thousand worshipers (they stand throughout the long services, for pews are abhorrent to venerable tradition) and is the tallest Orthodox church in the world with a dome reaching 338 feet. Stalin’s plan to build on its site a Palace of the Soviets with a huge statue of Lenin atop its dome was never realized because of World War II. That recalls the statue of Zeus, “the Abomination of Desolation,” which the Greek ruler of Syria, Antiochus IV, erected in the Jerusalem temple after he despoiled its sacred vessels. Antiochus basked in the title Epiphanes, which means “radiance of God,” but the Jews punned that as Epimanes, or “the mad man.”

   Two hundred churches are planned for Moscow, along with an estimated thousand across the nation, replacing and adding to those destroyed in the Communist period, during which priests were crucified on the church doors. These are in the classical Byzantine style, not the modern biscuit boxes and flying saucers that were the bane of the West over the last few decades. In some towns, the local people are taught iconography and mosaic art, so the churches really are the work of their own hands. 

   These days in China, where Christianity is oppressed, not especially for theological reasons, but because it is a threat to the political hegemony of the state, churches are being destroyed. Within the past few months, for example, in Henan Province an evangelical church was dynamited in Shangqiu, with a blithe ferocity paralleling that of Stalin. 

   In the West, churches are getting demolished for reasons other than political: redundancy, the lack of need for “ethnic” parishes, and the sheer cost of maintenance. Often, people who are much wealthier than their ancestors who built the churches sacrificially out of their penury, do not contribute enough for maintenance. Between 1995 and the present, the Catholic population in the United States has increased from 57 million to over 70 million.  New churches are being built in the South and West where populations are growing faster than the decline in other parts of the country.

   There is another factor, however, in the loss of churches in much of our nation, and it is simply indifference. The vice of sloth is a spiritual malignancy, and many of our great metropolises have become hospices for lapsed believers. When I was sent to our parish here in “Hell’s Kitchen,” which is experiencing a phenomenal population growth, I was asked, “How many Catholics live there?” The proper question is, “How many Catholics will live there?” 

   The Ascending Lord did not send his disciples into Catholic neighborhoods, because there were none.

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2017-01-14 Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 14, 2018

14 January 2018

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

John 1:35-42 + Homily

15 Minutes 37 Seconds

(From the parish bulletin)

The romantic soul of William Wordsworth thrilled over the French Revolution: “Oh! Pleasant exercise of hope and joy!  . . . Bliss was it in the dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven!” He crossed the Channel to see it in action, but when the Terror began he fled in horror. Then there is the story of Beethoven tearing up the first page of his Sinfonia Eroica, originally dedicated to Napoleon, upon news that his hero had succumbed to the vanity of a crown. The anarchist Emma Goldman hailed the Russian Revolution, but when fact obliterated her fantasy, she acidly described the Bolshevik State “crushing every constructive revolutionary effort, suppressing, debasing, and disintegrating everything.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shattered the illusions of many armchair Communists.


   Disillusionment can decay into cynicism, but it can also be a salvific dose of reality.  Eugenicists in the last century envisioned a demographic utopia, only to find that illusion cruelly mocked by the Nazi death camps and made macabre by abortion mills today. Arthur and Elizabeth Rathburn of Grosse Point, Michigan are just the latest of people on trial for trafficking in the body parts of unborn babies. In 2013 the FBI discovered in their warehouse over one thousand heads, limbs and organs of infants. Their indictment seems to have been delayed because of what was previously a political reluctance to implicate Planned Parenthood. Increasing numbers of our population are recognizing unpleasant truths.


   Recent changes by our Executive Branch mark a shift in policy—reinstating the pro-life Mexico City Policy, moving to defund the United Nations Population Fund, expanding the religious exemption to the Health and Human Services Department’s contraception mandate, and favoring a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—as well as encouraging the annual March for Life this January 19, marking the 45th anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision. One does not want to be overly optimistic, but illusions are being shattered and, save for stone hearts, the consciences of many may be recognizing the consequences of naïvely underestimating the forces of evil cloaked as social progress.


   The Scottish king Robert the Bruce provided a lesson in persistence. Defeated in battle, he was tempted to give up, but for three months he took refuge in a cave where he watched a spider persevere in building a web, after failing numerous times. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” The line has edified schoolchildren, but it also helped the Bruce secure his kingdom after victory at Bannockburn. Various places claim the site of the cave—Dumfriesshire, Arran Island, Craigie, Taitlin Island—but that cave is wherever people learn from their mistakes and do not succumb to cynicism. “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

 

 

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2017-01-07 Epiphany

January 7, 2018

7 January 2018

The Epiphany of the Lord

Matthew 2:1-12 + Homily

19 Minutes 48 Seconds

 

From the parish bulletin

When The New Yorker magazine was peerless for its combination of erudition and wit, it ran a cartoon of Lilliputians contemplating Gulliver, whom they had fastened to the ground with ropes: “Either he’s very big or we are very small.”

   That is what we might say of the Creator when Epiphany directs our eyes to the stars. But while man must be humbled by the size beyond measure of the galaxies, the Creator does not humiliate us. In an interview in 1930, Einstein said: “We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how.” With the humility of a scientist who knows that there is much he does not know, that same professor wryly remarked to R. A. Thornton that he did not want to be like someone, including so many physicists, “who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest.”

   Well-meaning scientists have tried to calculate a physical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. In 1604, Johannes Kepler proposed that at the time of Christ’s birth there was a supernova simultaneous with the conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. This often is a feature of Christmas programs in astronomical observatories. There may be something to that, but saints like Chrysostom were of the opinion that this was no ordinary phenomenon, given the way it moved and came close to earth, but was “of some power endowed with reason.” For Aquinas, it is “probable that it was a newly created star, not in the heavens, but in the air near the earth, and that its movement varied according to God’s will.”

   Little is known of the Magi, and for that reason they are a mine easily plundered by romantics who make them so exotic that they seem too good to be true.  We do not even know their homeland; perhaps it was Persia or, according to one recent theory, what is now Yemen. We do know that God, unlike Gulliver, is beyond measure, and his grace has made us more than Lilliputians. Saint Hippolytus, before dying a hard death for Christ, said of him:

He wanted us to consider him as no different from ourselves, and so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, he slept. . . . When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King. Friends of God and co-heirs with Christ, we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine.

 

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2017-12-31 - Holy Family

December 31, 2017

31 December 2017

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Luke 2:22-40 + Homily

18 Minutes 23 Seconds

 

From the Bulletin

[This week the regular pastor's column yields to Saint Gregory Nazienzen, whose feast is January 2.]

   The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.

   He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honour, virginity had to receive new honour. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

   He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

   Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

   The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

   Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

   We needed God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

 

 

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2017-12-24 Christmas Mass During the Night

December 24, 2017

24 December 2017

Christmas Mass During the Night

Luke 2:1-14 + Homily

12 Minutes 27 Seconds

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2017-12-24 - Advent IV - Luke 1:26-38 + Homily 16 MInutes 47 Seconds

December 24, 2017

From the Bulletin - 24 December 2017

Saint Paul was converted by the risen Christ, who appeared as a blinding light. Later, he would meet Peter and James who had seen the actual risen body, which had changed from the way it appeared during Christ’s three years with them. 

   The body of the resurrected Christ had four characteristics. First, it could no longer feel pain. This “impassibility” was a triumph over the horrors of the Passion. Second, by “subtlety” the body was no longer subject to the laws of physics. During his earthly life, Christ had to knock on doors to enter, but in the Resurrection, he could appear in a room though the doors were locked. Third, the “agility” of Christ’s body had a strength that freed him from the constraints of motion and enabled him to bi-locate. Fourth, the “clarity” of the risen body radiated a brilliance that emanated from the divine intelligence: “light from light.” This was glimpsed in the Transfiguration, and was what blinded Paul on the Damascus road.

   These lines would seem to be an Easter meditation, but they are a Christmas meditation as well, for the two mysteries are inseparable. Without the Resurrection, the Nativity would be just another birthday, for even extraordinary people like Alexander the Great or Mozart had ordinary births. Because Christ is the Divine Word who created all things, the restrictions of his human nature are no less wonderful than the glory of his divine nature.

   The infant in Bethlehem was not impassible: he hungered and cried like any other baby. Without subtlety, he was confined to the stable. While in the Resurrection his agility could cast aside the shroud, in the manger he was bound by swaddling clothes. And as for clarity, his infant body could be glimpsed in the darkness only by frail lamplight. As he has no beginning and no end, his divine glory was not something he attained as he grew up: rather, it was what he allowed to dim when he came into time and space. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

   So Christmas is about two caves, and the birth in a stone stable would be only a sentimental reverie without the fact of the burial cave burst open. The Holy Infant in the manger is a kind of graphic hint for our limited intelligence, of the indescribable Ruler and Judge of the Universe. And the qualities of his risen body intimated what he would let us become in eternity.

   That youngest of the apostles wrote in his old age: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2).

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