The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Homily, Saturday 25th week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Eccl 11:9 -12:8; Ps 90; Lk 9:43b-45

While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”  But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying [Lk 9:43b-45].


My eighth-grade class was quite large, probably about 40 children. And Sister Francis Jane, our teacher, handled us with a near-perfect blend of discipline and love. She was a tiny woman, and the oldest of the Dominican nuns who taught in our school, but she kept us in line and insisted that we learn.

She also had a clever method of getting our attention in class. As she taught, whether she was speaking to us or writing something on the blackboard, she would occasionally rap her desk twice with one of those bony knuckles. This was a signal that what she was speaking about or writing would be on the next test. I quickly discovered that if I took note of these signals – in other words, if I paid attention – I could easily ace the test.

Well, dear Sister Francis Jane always comes to mind whenever I read this brief Gospel passage from Luke. Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “Pay attention to what I am telling you” [Lk 9:44].

Jesus was shaping the apostles, teaching them to understand the depth of the Paschal Mystery, both in His life and later in their lives. Yes, He wanted them to listen, because it would definitely be on the test.

Not long before, up in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had made that first prediction, a three-fold prediction: He would be handed over to men, they would kill Him, but after three days He would rise from the dead. In Matthew’s Gospel we’re told that Peter challenged Jesus: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing will ever happen to you” [Mt 16:22]. But this was followed by that sharp rebuke from Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan” [Mt 16:23].

Get Behind Me, Satan!

Peter and the others really didn’t have a clue about Jesus’ mission. Their vision of the Messiah didn’t coincide with what they heard from Jesus, because just like you and me, they thought in worldly terms. How did Jesus put it? “You are not on the side of God, but of men” [Mt 16:23]. In today’s passage from Luke Jesus predicts His passion for the second time; but this time, after getting their attention, He simply says: “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men” [Lk 9:44].
Delivered into the hands of men...

Unlike His first prediction, this time there’s no shout of indignation from Peter; no, the response is very different. In Luke we’re told “…they did not understand…and they were afraid” [Lk 9:45]. But Matthew describes the Apostles’ response differently: “…and they were deeply saddened” [Mt 17:23].

And note that Jesus didn’t use the first person here. He didn’t say, “I will be handed over…” No, he says, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” Yes, the Apostles were both afraid and deeply saddened because the Son of Man, the perfect One, will be betrayed by men – and not just by first-century Romans and Jews, but by all of us. 

By rejecting God’s gift of faith, by betraying God, by killing God, who is one of us, it’s as if we all actually betray and destroy ourselves. It’s as if we see God as some sort of alien being; but that’s not how He came to us, is it? No, He came to us, not in difference but in sameness, as one of us, one of us in all things except sin. He came as a loving brother of the same loving Father.

And yet the world hates Jesus – and believe me, brothers and sisters – the world does hate Jesus. It hates Him because He shows us what we could be. And the world fights that, doesn’t it? Indeed, we fight it too – that call to conversion – and try to do away with the judgment under which we live. What did we hear in our first reading from Ecclesiastes? “God will bring you to judgment” [Eccl 11:9].

But only if we become like Him can we be on the side of God, not of men. Only if we change, only if we repent and accept conversion, can we become what He desires for us.

And so, in the overwhelming mercy of His divine plan of love, Jesus allows Himself to be delivered into men’s hands. He allows Calvary’s horrendous demonstration of violence and hatred. He allows it so that when men wound Him, when they nail Him to that Cross, they will be washed in the tide of His Blood. And the power of that Blood, the Blood of divine love, can overcome and erase any hatred that fills the human heart.

The Blood of Christ
You see, brothers and sisters, once we accept the depth and breadth of God’s mercy, once we accept the forgiveness He desires for all, it’s easy to pay attention when He speaks to us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Favorite Flicks: My Picks

This morning as I was gathering up my stuff at the conclusion of our Wednesday morning Bible Study, one of the participants approached me and asked an unexpected question. Where it came from I haven't a clue, and I probably should have asked that of the questioner. But I'd been taken by surprise and wasn't prepared to examine motives or offer an answer. She had simply asked, "What are your favorite movies?"

It's not the sort of question one expects after an hour of enthusiastic discussion of the relationships among Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Abimelech, and God Himself. My first thought was to avoid the question by saying, "I really don't go to the movies very often." This really is the truth, as Dear Diane, an avid movie-goer, will be happy to confirm. But I realized that would have been a cowardly cop-out, so I simply put off the inevitable and replied, "Let me think about that. I'll let you know next week." I hoped that after a week's delay she might forget and I could as well. This, of course, will not happen.

I suppose I could have blurted out a few safe answers, like, "Gone with the Wind, It's a Wonderful Life, and Doctor Zhivago." Or, even better, I could have just ignored the question and made some polite excuse for having to leave quickly. After all, the answers to these kinds of questions often have a dark side, and cause others to think differently about you, perhaps unfairly. 

I remember participating in  a workshop (or was it a seminar? who knows the difference?) well over 40 years ago. Aimed at new youth group catechists, the day-long, Saturday-wasting program was conducted by a team of facilitators employed by a diocese in California that will remain unnamed. The program opened with a question: "If you were an animal, what would you be?" We then spent a half-hour -- that's 30 long minutes -- in small groups defending our critter choice before exposing it to the entire class and allowing others to cheer or jeer at our selection of totem spirit. As you can imagine it was a bizarre experience, and I still don't understand its purpose. 

Dung Beetles at Work
My choice, however, generated serious scorn from the facilitators until I explained my rationale. You see, I told all present that if I were an animal, I'd be a dung beetle. The facilitators correctly assumed I was cynically deriding their silly question in particular and their seemingly useless workshop in general. But in the face of their criticism, I assumed an air of a deeply hurt participant. The dung beetle, I explained, is among the humblest of God's creatures, and offers us the perfect, paradigmatic model of self-effacement and abandonment to the will of God. (Facilitators respond really well to phrases like this.) Well...for the rest of the morning I was the fair-haired child whose opinion was actively sought. This changed radically when, during our lunch hour, I made the mistake of telling a couple of other participants that my "dung beetle thing" was all a joke. One of them ratted me out to the facilitators and for the rest of the day I was persona non grata. It was a very unpleasant afternoon.

So I guess the best approach is simply to tell the truth and reveal my favorite movies to her who asked me...and to you, my select, holy remnant of readers. I won't provide more than a simple rationale for my flick picks, simply because I don't have the time to offer more detail. goes, my five-star movies in no particular order.

Groundhog Day (1993). I love this movie, simply because it's a wonderful, funny story of gradual (very gradual) self-awareness, repentance, and redemption. As the story progresses we see the transformation of a man from a self-centered and pitied misanthrope to a selfless, caring person who has learned that the gift of life demands a loving response. And this conversion occurs despite the fact that he sees no escape from his predicament, one which can be described only as supernatural. Although God is rarely mentioned in the film, the situation in which the hero finds himself can come from no other source. Bill Murray is at his wackiest best and I can't imagine any other actor in the role of Phil the once-pompous, self-absorbed TV weatherman.  A clip:

Tender Mercies (1983). Robert Duvall played the role of Mac Sledge, a seemingly washed-up alcoholic country-western singer, and he played it to perfection -- so perfectly he won an Oscar for best actor. The story is one of redemption and conversion (Do you see a pattern here?), and a story of the importance of family. It's a story of God's continual call to the sinner, to each an every one of us; and it's a story God's tough love, of His forgiveness and our need to extend it to and ask it of others. The script was rejected time and again by many directors who were no doubt turned off by its openly Christian theme. Remarkably, Robert Duvall did all his own singing in the film -- an example:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Okay, I like this movie -- really like this movie -- because it's so uproariously funny and depicts the teenager most guys wish they were back when. Matthew Broderick was perfectly cast in the title role, so well cast that I find it hard to think of him as anyone else. The story might demand a suspension of disbelief to an extraordinary degree but that's true of many good comedies. It's all about a high school student who decides to act sick so he can enjoy a day off from the tedious boredom that most parents and educators inflict on their charges. The day that follows, a day into which he recruits his friend, Cameron, is anything but boring. But throughout it all, despite Ferris' cocky attitude and total chutzpah, we encounter a likable character who cares about his friends and their problems. We also sympathize with him as he tiptoes through the minefield of typical teen problems generated by clueless parents, jealous younger siblings, suspicious and bureaucratic school officials, and distressed friends. It's the perfect movie to watch when you have a day off. Here's the opening scene. It sets the stage for all that follows:

The Wind and the Lion (1975). As a retired naval officer I can't help but like this movie. It has a great cast that includes Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, and Brian Keith. A fictionalized account of an incident that took place in Morocco in 1904 in which an American woman (Candice Bergen) and her two children were kidnapped by a Berber rebel (Sean Connery) with the intent of creating an international incident. (The reality was quite different, but it's a movie so we expect to encounter a little alteration.) In response to a ransom demand, the US President, Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith), decides to make use of the incident in his campaign for reelection. The story continues developing the relationship between the Berber rebel and the kidnapped American. My favorite scene involves none of the principle characters but depicts a contingent of US Marines sent to convince the Bashaw in Tangier to pay the ransom. The Marines are, of course, magnificently successful. It's a complicated plot, but a wonderful story. My kind of movie. Here's the trailer:

That's enough for now. Maybe more another day.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fr. Jacques Hamel, Martyr

Fr. Jacques Hamel was the 85-year-old French priest who was murdered by Islamist terrorists while he celebrated Mass in his church in the town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen. ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the priest's brutal death. 

In a homily at his residence's chapel this week, Pope Francis said that he expected Fr. Hamel to be canonized. The pope went on to refer to Fr. Hamel as a martyr and also repeated the slain priests final words, "Satan, begone!" Emphasizing this, Pope Francis then stated that "To kill in the name of God is satanic."
Fr. Jacques Hamel
Pope Francis continued by reminding his small congregation that martyrdom was and remains a very real part of the Church's 2,000-yearlong history. Father Hamel was the most recent in this long line of martyrs, and that today Christians in many parts of the world are "murdered, tortured, imprisoned, have their throats slit because they do not deny Jesus Christ."

The following video from Rome Reports describes the Holy Father's homily at the Santa Marta guesthouse chapel:

Interestingly, Fr. Hamel's Breviary, open to the last page he had prayed from that day, will be placed in the Basilica of St. Bartholomew where it will join the relics of other martyrs who gave their lives for the faith. In agreeing to this, the Archbishop of Rouen, Msgr. Dominique Lebrun, stated:
"I must confess that when they proposed the idea for the first time, I thought it was too soon, we should have done it later. But after listening to the pope, I saw that I was wrong. The pope was faster than me. I am very happy for this opportunity to state that Fr. Jacques is one among the many martyrs of the Church."
Here's another brief video, also from Rome Reports, describing this unique event:

Pray for the persecuted Christians of the world, and pray for the conversion of their persecutors.

Brexit, European Unity, and Culture

Brexit Vote: UK will leave the EU
 In a referendum on June 23 of this year, a majority of the people of the United Kingdom (and Gibraltar) voted to leave the European Union. Voter turnout for the referendum, popularly called "Brexit" (or British Exit), was high -- over 72% -- with approximately 52% of voters opting to leave. 

Although it's always dangerous to ascribe motives to voters, those in favor of leaving the EU seemed to believe that British sovereignty was at stake. They expressed concerns that non-elected EU bureaucrats were making and enforcing regulations affecting almost every aspect of people's lives, and that such decisions should be made by the people themselves. For them, membership in the EU is costly, intrusive, undemocratic, authoritarian; in other words, decisions affecting the UK should be made by the UK, not by unrestrained bureaucrats in Brussels. Some were also motivated by a desire to regain control over the nation's borders. Immigration, they believe, is out of control and causing unwanted changes to the nation's long-established culture. And others, looking to the future, saw no mechanism in place to limit the expanding power of the EU. They feared an EU transformation from an authoritarian bureaucracy to a totalitarian oligarchy.

Although I'm not British, I'll admit to siding with those UK voters who favored leaving the EU. I understand and in general agree with their reasons for voting as they did. After all, we Americans can certainly sympathize with British rejection of a foreign power who subjects them to "taxation without representation." 

Perhaps more importantly, I believe that a people, united by a common culture, has the right to self-determination, especially when it comes to accepting changes to that culture. I might well, however, differ with many of the UK's voters because I probably view the culture more broadly than they. I am not, therefore, a nationalist, and actually abhor nationalism because it tends to assume the nation state is the source of unity and ignores the unifying role of the broader culture, in this instance, the broader, and deeper, European culture.

For this reason, despite favoring an exit vote, I don't oppose the concept of a united Europe. The problem with the European Union as it currently exists relates to its self-awareness. Those who hold power in the EU don't understand the very source of the unity they extol. The EU seems to believe that European unity will result from economic and political integration. In other words, once all these former nation-states have the same currency and once their national and local governments become superfluous and are superseded by a united European government, the desired unity will result. Unfortunately, this kind of unity, based solely on economic and political ties, is doomed to failure. And I expect the decision by the people of the United Kingdom to be only the first of many similar decisions.

Charlemagne: Europe United in Faith
No common currency can unite a people. No unified government, no political system, can supplant the cultural unity that is at the heart of a people's identity. Unless, of course, a people loses all sense of cultural identity, something that will happen when the culture breaks down. Such a breakdown will occur when the people turn away from the very thing that formed their culture. For at the core of a culture is the cult, its religious foundation. European culture was formed over a period of centuries by men who did not rely solely on themselves or their own efforts. They relied on, they put their faith and trust in something far greater than the society or civilization of which they were a part. They relied on that which is above them, on the supernatural. They could say in faith: Diem hominis non desideravi -- I have not desired the day of man. They, instead, looked forward to the Day of God when all would be resolved, when God's plan for humanity would be fulfilled. But for many today, the day of man is the only hoped-for end. They have severed their cultural (religious) ties to the past and placed a near impassable barrier between them and those who formed the culture that formed today's Europeans. The barrier is a spiritual one and blinds them to their cultural ties to those who preceded them.

Sadly, the EU has also ignored these cultural ties. Its leadership has fallen prey to a kind of temporal bias which judges the past by current standards. Because EU leadership and bureaucrats disregard the role of religion, specifically Christianity, in the life and culture of today's Europe, they assume it had little or no role in the formation of European culture -- hence its omission from the once-proposed EU constitution. And because they ignore Europe's binding cultural roots, I believe the EU as it exists today will not last. Neither am I very optimistic about the future of Europe's nation states unless they experience a renewal of religious -- that is, Christian -- faith, unless they return in humility to their cultural roots. 

Before we dismiss this as improbable, if not impossible, we should recall that "with God all things are possible" and that we see the future only dimly. Jesus Christ is the Lord of History and can act in surprising ways through many unforeseen events. And we Americans, with our deep cultural ties to our European brothers and sisters, must hold fast to the faith that formed us as well.

Yes, indeed, we live in interesting times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

PC No-Nos: Religious Liberty and Relgious Freedom

The United States Commission on Civil Rights in its latest report castigates those who dare to use such expressions as "religious liberty" or "religious freedom." Indeed, according to the report these phrases, in themselves, are discriminatory. The report, entitled Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties is a remarkable document that seems completely unaware of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United State.

Martin Castro, the chairman of the commission and presumably no relation to the Cuban dictator, stated: 

"The phrases ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious freedom’ will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” 
Ah, yes, we must suppress the speech of those who use those evil "code words." My questions to Mr. Castro are many: What words may I use to describe the persecution of Christians simply because they are Christians? Since Islam, like orthodox Christianity, also considers homosexual activity to be sinful, are Muslims guilty of homophobia? And if so, if one accuses Muslims of being homophobic, is he then Islamophobic? It's all very confusing, Mr. Castro, but I'm sure an intelligent man like yourself can clear it up for us intolerant Christian supremacists.

Interestingly, the commission's report, while accusing Christians of discrimination because they don't accept as good the behavior of everyone and anyone (excect, of course other Christians), goes on to do to Christians exactly what they accuse Christians of doing. Yes, indeed, it's all extremely confusing. For example, in the report's executive summary, the commission stated:
“The appropriate balance between religious liberty and nondiscrimination principles in some conflicts arises as a concern when religious institutions and organizations claim the freedom under constitutional and statutory law to choose leaders, members or employees according to the tenets of their faith, even if the choice would violate employment, disability, or other laws. It arises also when individuals claim the freedom to adhere to religious principles regardless of otherwise applicable law governing their conduct.”
Wow! Can you imagine? Let's punish those pesky Christians. After all, they expect their leadership and membership to accept the "tenets of their faith." It's simply outrageous that all those bishops and priests in the Catholic Church have to be Catholic. Does this mean that laws in direct conflict with the rights explicitly enumerated in the Constitution supersede those rights? According to the commission, it would seem so.

The commissioners went on to question religious exemptions -- you know, those rights  that stem from the First Amendment -- as infringing on a person's civil rights. They endorse the protection of one's religious beliefs, but not religious conduct, the ability to act on those beliefs or, in Constitutional language, to freely exercise those beliefs. And to make sure we understand what this means they listed several conclusions (see the Report, p. 20-21):

  • schools must be allowed to insist on inclusive values,
  • throughout history, religious doctrines accepted at one time later become viewed as discriminatory, with religions changing accordingly, 
  • without exemptions, groups would not use the pretext of religious doctrines to discriminate, 
  • a doctrine that distinguishes between beliefs (which should be protected) and conduct (which should conform to the law) is fairer and easier to apply, 
  • third parties, such as employees, should not be forced to live under the religious doctrines of their employers, 
  • a basic right as important as the freedom to marry should not be subject to religious beliefs, and 
  • even a widely accepted doctrine such as the ministerial exemption should be subject to review as to whether church employees have religious duties.
When one reads the entire report it becomes clear that the commission believes federal and state governments should interpret the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993) as narrowly as possible. In other words, religious freedom may be claimed only by individuals and churches, and even then only in the most limited sense. According to the commission, other religious-based or sponsored organizations should not be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs freely. This, the commission believes, will ensure those intolerant religious folks can't discriminate against those who don't accept the tenets of their faith.

It's all very Orwellian, and I can assume it will only get worse. 

By the way, just a point of interest: when one searches the commission's extensive website for the word, "sharia", there are no results.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Few Thoughts

Some of these thoughts might not sound very charitable, but sometimes we must speak the truth.

Patriots and Cowards. Colin Kaepernick, Brandon Marshall and the rest of the NFL's spoiled brats who have chosen to sit or kneel or to display clenched fists during the National Anthem are simply cowards. They have all reaped the benefits of life in this remarkable country, and done so to the extreme, all for playing a children's game. Most were coddled from the time they entered high school because of their athletic ability. Little was expected of them off the field, and a few might actually have fulfilled those minimal expectations. And now, because they have fame and fortune and a near-global public forum, but little or no sense, we are supposed to pay attention to them. They receive millions for playing their games while those who actually matter, those who defend this country and willingly sacrifice their lives for the rest of us, are paid very modestly, receive little thanks, and must try to survive health care from the VA. I wonder how many military funerals Kaepernick and Marshall have attended. I wonder how many wounded warriors they've visited at Walter Reed or Bethesda. Brandon Marshall says he's a patriot. Uh, Brandon, just an FYI: patriots stand for the National Anthem, at least those who haven't lost their legs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, Normandy, Iwo Jima...
Kaepernick Sits During National Anthem

I haven't attended or watched a major league baseball game since the strike in 1994. Remember when those millionaires had the chutzpah to declare, "We're doing this for the working people of America." Yes, all those thousands of low-paid working people who lost their jobs because the entire season was cancelled. Now I have to decide if I've  watched my last NFL game as well.
Brandon Marshall Kneels During National Anthem

Syrian Christians: persona no grata. Before the civil war in Syria, Christians made up approximately 10% of the country's population and were able to live in relative peace and practice their religion freely. Because of the war they have suffered more than any other religious group, largely at the hands of ISIS and other Islamic extremists. The war has not only led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, but it has also created a much larger number of refugees. Our president decided to aid these displaced Syrians by allowing thousands to immigrate to the United States.

Syrian Refugees: Christians Need Not Apply

According to the government's latest figures, the United States has admitted a total of 13,364 Syrian refugees since the civil war began. Of these, 13,019 (97.4%) are Sunni Muslims, while only 102 (less than 1%) are Christians. In other words, the religious group that has suffered the most and been persecuted the most has been virtually excluded. It's also important to note that ISIS is led by Sunni Muslims who follow the fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrines. These same ISIS leaders have stated that they intend to infiltrate terrorists among the Syrian refugees admitted to both Europe and the United States. Pray for the Christians of Syria; indeed, pray for all the people of that troubled country.

Dismemberment AbortionBan. Abortion is so horrific that I sometimes find it difficult to write about it. But for this very reason it's important to ensure the truth is told. For example, many people quite simply don't know exactly how abortions are performed, particularly late-term abortions. If they knew, support for abortion would likely drop considerably. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has decided to introduce legislation in the Senate that he hopes will not only educate the public about the horrors of late-term abortions, but also ban these procedures nationwide. 

The legislation, called the Dismemberment Abortion Ban Act defines a dismemberment abortion as one that uses “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments” to “slice, crush or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body in order to cut or rip it off or crush it,” with the purpose of causing death to the unborn child. Senator Lankford reminds us, “We know now that children who are in the womb in late-term can feel pain, At least we should agree that in the womb when a child can feel pain, we shouldn’t pull them apart limb by limb.” Identical legislation was introduced earlier in the House by Reprsentative Chris Smith (R-NJ).

A man of faith, the senator stated, “I do pray, not only for those that are yet to be born, but I pray a lot for moms that have had an abortion and the grief that they experience based on that after the fact. I pray for those that actually perform abortions that they will at some point awaken to what’s happening right in front of them.” We should all join the senator in his prayer.

Homily: Monday, 24th Week of Ordinary Time (Most Holy Name of Mary)

Readings: 1 Cor 11:17-26, 33; Psalm 40; Luke 7:1-10
“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” [Lk 7:9].
What a surprise it must have been to the Jews who heard Jesus say those words. For the centurion was not only a gentile, he was also an officer of the hated Roman legions that had occupied the Holy Land for 100 years.

Was he a pagan as well? Probably not, for we are told “he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us” [Lk 7:5].  And there were many gentiles, especially among the Romans, who were drawn to the monotheistic faith of the Jews. This centurion seems to be among their number.

And the fact that he had sent the Jewish elders to ask for Jesus’ help indicates he clearly understood the demands of any relationship between Jew and gentile. He knew that by approaching Jesus personally and publicly he might place him in an awkward position. He also knew that Jews were forbidden to enter the house of a gentile.

But one thing about him is certain: he was a man of faith, for Jesus tells us so. In fact, Jesus’ miraculous healing of the centurion’s servant is given unique treatment by Luke. The miracle itself is hardly mentioned. Instead Luke focuses on the centurion and his faith. And his is a remarkable faith.

It’s a faith of abandonment and perfect trust, a faith that lets go completely and turns everything over to God.

It’s a faith that places no limits on God, a faith that accepts God’s omnipotence.

It’s a faith that allows God to heal and forgive whenever and however He wants, that allows God to rewrite the laws of nature because they are His laws.

Yes, Jesus was “amazed” by the centurion’s faith, a faith greater than any in Israel.

Throughout the Old Testament, the history of God’s relationship with His people, we encounter men and women of great faith – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Moses and David; Ruth and Esther; Elijah and the prophets. But they all have their moments of doubt, their crises of faith, the times when they turn away from God and try to rely on their own devices.

But with the centurion, we see only constancy, a faith that mirrors the words of Divine Mercy: “Jesus I trust in You.

Indeed, the Church thinks so much of the faith of the centurion that his words are included in the liturgy. At the time during Mass when we celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist the Presence Paul preached in today's first reading we, the faithful, repeat the centurion's act of faith:
"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" [See Lk 7:6-7].
I can think of only one other person who exhibits this kind of faith, this total abandonment to the Will of God. Only Mary, Our Blessed Mother, can hear the words that describe the Incarnation, the miraculous event that will change the world forever, and accept it without question:
“May it be done to me according to your word” [Lk 1:38].
And how fitting that today we should celebrate the memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary, a name which in Hebrew, Miryãm, means lady or sovereign. And so she truly is “Our Lady.” 

The feast was created by Pope Innocent XI in remembrance of the defeat of the Islamic Turks by the Poles in 1683. The Turks has threatened Vienna and all of Western Europe, and the victory was attributed to Mary’s intercession.

A decade ago Pope Benedict, quoting St. Bernard, encouraged the faithful to:

“…call upon Mary…in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart…If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination” [Pope Benedict Homily, 9/9/2007].
Although far too often you and I lack the depth of faith displayed by the centurion, we need only turn to Mary. We can lay our doubts and weak faith at her feet, invoke her holy name, and know she will intercede for us.

As we pray Divine Praises in the Eucharistic Presence:

“Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.”

Homily: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Readings Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; Ps 51; 1 Tm 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

The parable of the prodigal son it’s a wonderful story isn’t it? Pope Benedict used to call it the parable of the two sons. And I know others who prefer to call it the parable of the merciful father. But I like Benedict’s title, because it seems to go right to the heart of what Jesus was telling His audience.

And to truly understand this parable, we need to look first at exactly who that audience was. Fortunately we don’t have far to look because Luke tells us at the very beginning of this Gospel passage: 

“Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…” [Lk 15:1-2]
And so we find that there were two groups listening to Jesus that day: sinners and the self-righteous. This is who Jesus addresses when He relates this wonderful parable – this Gospel within a Gospel. Jesus tells these two groups, these two brothers, not one but three parables, three stories about loss: one about the lost sheep; one about the lost coin; and one about a father’s sons – two lost sons.

In some respects this story of the brothers is nothing new, because it continues a theme that runs through the entire Old Testament. It begins with Cain and Abel, continues with Isaac and Ishmael, appears again a generation later with Esau and Jacob, and is even reflected in the story of Joseph and his eleven brothers. But as He often does, Jesus gives the familiar story a new twist and in doing so brings it to life for his listeners. He brings it to life by bringing it into our lives, for we can’t help but see ourselves in one or both of the brothers. And what is it that Jesus is telling us? Ultimately, I think it’s an appeal to all of us to say “Yes” once more to the God who calls us.

At the parable’s beginning we meet the prodigal, this impulsive, materialistic, lusty young man. And we also meet the father
the magnanimous father who complies with his son’s wishes and gives him his inheritance and his freedom. He knows full well what the son will do, but lets him go his way “into a distant country.”

In commenting on this passage, the Church Fathers explain this decision by the son as an interior rupture, an estrangement from the world of the father – the world of God – an abandonment of all that is truly his own. The son wants his idea of “life in abundance.” He wants no commandments, no authority, no rules, no claims on his actions. He wants radical freedom, complete autonomy. He wants to live only for himself. Today we’d call him a radical libertarian; he accepts no limits on his behavior. If you asked him, he’d probably say he just wants to enjoy himself. And so he does. He grabs all the gusto he can, until there’s no gusto left…and no inheritance.

Prodigal Feeding the Swine
Luke uses an interesting word to describe the property that the son dissipates. Luke dips into the vocabulary of Greek philosophy and uses the Greek word for essence. And so what we really have is the son dissipating his essence; that is, himself. Until, finally, he who thought he was completely free is nothing more than a slave, living in conditions worse than the lowest of animals. And that’s what radical freedom, that’s what license, always does. It leads only to slavery. But it’s in this slavery, in this state of extreme alienation and destitution, that conversion occurs.

Through this conversion the prodigal recognizes that he has wandered far, not just from his home, not just from his father, but from himself. He knows now that true freedom was what he left behind. And now, like all of us, he’s on a pilgrimage – one that involves suffering and inner purification.

Of course, conversion can’t happen, it can’t even begin, unless we expect forgiveness. And forgiveness awaited the younger son, didn’t it? The father, in his wisdom, expected his son to return. Why else would he wait and watch for him? Seeing his son in the distance, the father runs out to meet him with an embrace and a kiss. Through one loving gesture, the father forgives the son
and the son hasn't even made his confession yet! 

When the confession comes, the father hardly listens, because the important thing isn’t the confession, but the repentance that brought it about and the fact that his son has returned. The son doesn’t need to beg for forgiveness, he’s already been forgiven. The Father is merciful. This, brothers and sisters, is the glorious Good News! God's forgiveness, His mercy, just like His love, doesn't stop. This is the loving God Jesus reveals to us: the loving God who can’t not forgive!

And remember, Jesus uses this parable to justify His actions, His goodness toward sinners. And in doing so He reinforces His claim that He and the Father are one; both welcome sinners. Of course His Passion and Resurrection reinforce this point still further. How did St. Paul put it?

“…while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” [Rom 5:8]
And so, in this parable, Jesus justifies His actions by relating them to and identifying them with the Father’s. It’s in the figure of the Father that Jesus places Himself right in the heart of the parable.

Ah, but there’s another son, isn’t there?
the elder son, who seems so perfect. He honors his father. He works hard. He doesn’t ask for favors. Yes, he’s the perfect young man, the kind we’d all like our daughters to marry. Yes, he certainly seems respectable, but beneath that veneer of perfection there’s a hardness, a simmering hatred, that bursts through the surface when his sinful brother receives the royal treatment.
Son...all that is mine is yours
What does he do? He becomes angry and stays outside, pouting in the darkness. It’s always in the darkness where the worst sins are committed. He hates his younger brother, the foolish one who took the money and ran, the son who spent his birthright on sin. But he hates someone else as well. He also despises his father, because he can’t stand the thought of his father’s forgiveness.

Like the Pharisees and scribes he’s unable to let go of his own sense of justice – the justice of the world, of humanity – and accept the justice of his father. He’s also motivated by selfishness, but it’s a darker kind because it hides under the cover of respectability, the kind that says, “I’m better than you. I’m holier than you. I deserve more than you.”

Oh, the elder son was a sinner all right; he just didn’t think he was. He despises his father for being so forgiving, but it never crosses his mind that he needs that same forgiveness. He sees only injustice, and perhaps envy that his brother has gotten away with so much. And so his obedience to his father has left him inwardly bitter, lacking any awareness of the true freedom he enjoys as a son.

“Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” [Lk 15:31], the father explains, using almost the same words Jesus uses at the Last Supper when in His high-priestly prayer He describes His relationship with the Father:

“…everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine…” [Jn 17:10]
The parable ends here, telling us nothing of the older brother’s reaction. It ends because it now crosses over into reality. It’s now up to His listeners – to the tax collectors, the sinners, the scribes, the Pharisees to finish the story in their own hearts.

Yes, like the two brothers they too are sinners, just as you and I are sinners. But the question each of us must ask today is: Which kind of sinner am I? And once we answer that question, once we know who we are, only then can we come to realize not only that we need forgiveness, but also that we need to forgive. It’s this knowledge, or the lack of it, that determines where we go from here.

Brothers and sisters, forgiving is no big thing for God. On the contrary, He delights in it, because forgiveness completes God’s love. In forgiveness, love is at its strongest. In forgiveness, love, especially God’s love, generates new life. Yes, God’s delights in forgiveness; and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

But the other question is: Do we delight in it as well?