Sunday, December 30, 2018

Family....Holy Family?

Raising a family is hard. Raising a family in imitation of the Holy Family sounds impossible. And yet the prayers of the Church tell us that that is the model. We do we do with that?

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

December 25 = Bowing Day

The Word is made flesh. The eternal Lord enters into time. God is made man. We fall down, bow, adore, worship, revere this miracle-in-a-munchkin. But we already bow a lot at Mass; what do we do on this day then, in the face of their mystery? You super-duper bow. You genuflect. You hit the floor. At the feast of His incarnation (March 25) and the feast of His birth (December 25), we hit our knees. But there we learn to our surprise and delight—as the first wise man does—that this also puts us face to face with the adorable little newborn savior.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Calvary Requires A Christmas

God wills our good. But we are dumb. God loves us intensely. But we can hardly see it. God doesn't need, or really even care about, our sacrifices. But we can't figure out that what He really wants is a humble heart—a will—that loves as He loves. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is saying the Son of God took on a body, became incarnate, was born at Bethlehem to remedy this: With a body, we can see His generosity and good will, we can see his love on the cross, we can understand what a heart that comes to do the Father's will looks like. So you need a Christmas to you can have a Calvary.

4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

A Calvary Requires A Christmas

For today’s homily we’re going to look at the second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews. And I won’t lie, this reading feels a little out of place. So here we are, it’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we’re a day and a half from Christmas, and finally things are really, really Christmas-y. At the beginning of Advent, you don’t always get a super Christmas-y feel; it’s more cosmic that Christmas-y. We’re talking about Jesus’ second coming, we’re talking about being prepared for both His comings, and there’s a lot of stuff going on. And as little kids, it’s hard, because we instantly want angels and shepherds, but nope, the first couple of weeks slowly tease us and let us gently move forth in that direction. So by the Fourth Sunday, we are in all out Advent assault on Christmas, we’re ready. We’ve got the first reading talking about Bethlehem, the smallest of the clans of Judah, and that the ruler will come from there, “therefore the Lord will give them up until the time that she, who has to give birth, has borne” that one- It’s very Christmas oriented. The Gospel is Mary and Elizabeth with babies in their wombs, and John’s jumping up and down, he’s excited that his Savior has come to his very own door. It’s very Christmas-y.  But then the second reading feels a little odd then, because it’s the letter to the Hebrews. And I think we had the Hebrews two months ago- it’s a lot about the temple and priesthood and animal sacrifices and stuff like that. And that’s a little out of place. It might seem to fit better with Eastertime, or Good Friday or Holy Thursday, because it’s focusing on that sacrificial aspect. And even the part we read here does that. But I think we will see here that it does fit perfectly with the fact that we’re right on the cusp of Christmas. So, what does it say?

"Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came into the world, he said:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, 'As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.'"

That is a direct quote from Psalm 40. So here we have the author of Hebrews, in the New Testament, quoting at length Psalm 40 from the Old Testament saying “this is why Jesus came.” And it’s an interesting sort of thing, because at this time we always focus on a helpless little baby, it the womb and in the cradle, but before that happened, God, the second person of the trinity, with all the knowledge, power, and fullness of divinity, made a choice to enter into our world, and He puts on His lips Psalm 40. I don’t expect that we should think that little baby Jesus came out of the womb singing Psalm 40, but these are the words that He had as He “came into the world.” Luckily in the next paragraph the author explains why he says that, why he brings this up, and why Psalm 40. 

“First he says, "Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in."”

This is a funny thing about Psalm 40, and a couple other psalms do this same thing. God, in the Psalms says, “I don’t need your sacrifices. I don’t need these bulls, goats, rams that you bring here. I don’t need them. I don’t eat them. I’m not hungry. And if I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you. You’re not bringing animal sacrifices to make Me happy or because I need them; I’m telling you, you need to do them, because you need to give them away. When you have a prize ram in your flock and you give it away, that does something good for your heart. When you give away the first fruits of your field, that’s good for your heart, but I don’t actually need these. The sacrifice isn’t to make Me happy, it’s to make you better.”

And yet, we know that God laid up the sacrifice system in the Old Testament, and we know that Jesus, going back to our Holy Week idea, actually does fulfill that. He becomes the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He is slaughtered on the cross at the moment that the lambs are being slaughtered in the temple on Good Friday, on the Day of Preparation. He fully enters into that. But we have to flip it- we have to realize that He’s doing it because we need it, not because God needs it. But then look at the next thing He says about the sacrifices: 

“These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’”

That’s the interesting part, because Psalm 40 says “You don’t need those sacrifices, you need someone who will do your will.” And this follows the Psalms in other places, it’s more about where our hearts are at, the choices we make, our hearts being broken and contrite, our hearts being humble before the Lord, that’s the real sacrifice. The sacrifice of humility that God wants, not just more and more piled up animal carcasses.

But the guy in Hebrews is saying the important part:
“’Behold, I come to do your will.’”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this "will," we have been consecrated
through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Now we understand why this is a Christmas reading, God loved the people of the Earth, especially Israel. If God is just God in the heavens without a body, it’s hard to see what that looks like. But when God, the Second Person in the Trinity enters into our world, enters into time, and comes to Earth, He takes on a body forever. But the Father doesn’t have a body, the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a body, and the Son didn’t have a body until the Incarnation. God can say He loves us, He can really love us as no one else can, but we’re kind of slow, it’s hard for us to understand. How do you know your mother loves you? She does certain things for you. How do you know your father loves you? He does things for you. If your sibling breaks their chocolate Santa in half and gives part of it to you, you know that they love you- it’s a sacrifice. And if there’s no body, if it’s not in the material world, it’s hard for us to understand love and sacrifice. God loves us forever, but still, we’re kind of slow, so what happens?

“Sacrifices and offerings you desired not…but a body you prepared for me.”

God says “I come in a body so you can see this love aright. I come in a body because I will make sacrifice. Not because sacrifice is something that I need, but so you can see it.” We need to see it, we need to witness it. We need to experience a love that isn’t selfish but is selfless. A love that gives itself, rather than taking for itself. A love that is generous and complete. That’s why God does this. So Christmas is the necessary condition of Calvary. You can’t have Calvary without Christmas. On the other hand, you have no need of Christmas unless Jesus is also going to His death and resurrection. But here we see these two holidays- these holy days- come together. We’re seeing that if you’re going to have a savior, you’re going to have the incarnation. And he might not come out speaking any words, but we’re told that from the beginning “I will show you that love, I will show you that generosity, I will show you that sacrificial love on the cross. So I’m going to come weak and small and as a baby, I’m going to take on a body, I’m going to be in your world, I’m going to be a part of humanity so I can take all of those broken things to the cross, heal them, and bring them all back to our Father.”

Sunday, December 16, 2018

He Sings Over His Daughter

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! 
The Lord, your God  is in your midst; 
he will rejoice over you with gladness, 
and renew you in his love, 
he will sing joyfully because of you!
In the Hebrew scriptures, God almost always refers to himself with masculine imagery—father, husband)—but his people (and later the Church) are sometimes describes as his children, his son, and—especially when Zion is spoken of—his daughter. Gaudete Sunday isn't just a day for us to rejoice in God, but when we realize he rejoices over us as a father does over his beloved daughter.

I’m not gonna talk about Jesus today. I’m gonna talk about the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah. He’s one of the minor prophets, we don’t get to see him very often, he pops up just a few times over the years, but it’s a great one from him- It’s Guadete Sunday- it’s the Third Sunday of Advent, we’re over half way to Christmas, actually, more than 2/3rds. Rose Candles, rose vestments, it’s a time of rejoicing.

Two cool things to catch from today’s reading, one at the beginning, and one at the end. So at the beginning, look what he says: “Shout for joy, O Daughter Zion; Sing joyfully, O daughter Jerusalem!” There’s a lot of joy, it fits with the theme, but who is he talking to? He says “O daughter Zion, O daughter Jerusalem.” That’s an interesting thing, to call her a daughter. So let’s talk about gendered language in the Bible, specifically in the Old Testament.

God Himself doesn’t have a gender because he doesn’t have a body. Jesus takes on a body at the Incarnation so he definitely is called a “he,” always. But before that, He, and the Holy Spirit and the Father, don’t have a body so they’re not properly gendered, but God always reveals Himself using “He.” All throughout the Old Testament, God always reveals Himself in a masculine way. Often times then, the people are described in feminine terms, but not always. Sometimes they are “His children,” sometimes they are “His son,” often times though, and especially when we talk in certain ways, the description is feminine. Sometimes, He describes that he is going to marry Himself to them. That makes sense, it’s a covenant, and marriage is an example of a covenant. Sometimes the language again is childlike, but especially when we talk about Zion, it’s always “daughter.” Now don’t be confused, don’t be all “wait you said we’re talking about marriage, but now you’re talking about ‘daughter,’ that’s weird.” No. It’s a metaphor. Again, God always uses masculine for Himself, but when He uses metaphors, it can be different. In Isaiah, He sometimes uses even motherly metaphors. God is described as being a mother who is worried about her child, or wanting to gather her children to herself, or the longing she has for a child. Those are metaphors. But it seems like, most of the time, when referring to Jerusalem or Zion, the expression is “daughter-ish.” This even gets taken up in the New Testament- we always refer to the Church as a “she.” But here let’s focus on this daughter idea, that God has this daughter that he’s saying to be joyful. That makes sense.

But now look to the end of the reading. Look to what the joy is about there. These last three lines:
“The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.”

Notice the joy is going a different direction now. The Father, God, is rejoicing over His daughter. “He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will sing joyfully because of you.” That’s just a great image when you pair this with the beginning of the reading. Because you have this Father singing over His daughter, rejoicing over His daughter. And you can picture it, whether she’s a little baby in the crib and he’s looking over her, singing her a lullaby, rejoicing over his daughter. That’s what Zion is like. Or she grows up and she’s 5 years old and puts on her favorite dress and comes dancing around the living room, she twirls for dad and puts on her favorite tiara, like “Dad, do you like my dress, do you like my dance, do you like how it twirls?” and he rejoices over her, he sings over her, he’s proud of her, he’s excited. “I love your dress, I love how you dance, I love how it twirls.” And then even as she grows up, and he’s ready to let her go out of the house, there’s still that singing over her, that joy over her. Just last Saturday, I got to do a wedding and every wedding we have the same thing. The Father leads the bride down the aisle, and yeah, he’s going to hand her off, he’s gonna say “that’s right, boy, she’s gonna call you now when she has car trouble.” There’s a certain surrender there, but it’s a joyful sort of thing. And that last moment, that last hug, those last words, there is a singing over his daughter, a rejoicing over his daughter.

So it’s cool- at the beginning, the daughter is told to be joyful because God is there, and exult in her heart about her Father. We’re told that it’s not just one way- God rejoices over us, Zion, Jerusalem, and His Church, His people. He sings over us, He’s filled with this joy and delight. That’s an awesome image to have for Guadete Sunday, that it’s both directions. We’re going to come to Christmas here really really soon. And yes, there will be rejoicing in the moment when the angels and the shepherds and Mary and Joseph all come to rejoice, but know that God is rejoicing too in that moment- He’s singing over His people, and really, sending His Son to be our savior is His ultimate way of really singing and rejoicing over His people.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Frequent Confession Makes For More Interesting Sins

1) If it feels like your Confessions are boring, you probably need to be going more often. Believe it our not, you'll have better, more interesting, "more exciting" sins to confess the more frequently you go. Try it!

2) Confession is like sandpaper. Listen to learn more.

3) We have extra confessions M-F 5:00-5:30 PM.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

An Advent Apostle and Advocate

Putting this up quickly today since I think there are probably people who are shut in by snow and ice. One thing I forgot to mention as an Advent prayer/preparation is time before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, whether quietly on your own, in a holy hour (7:30 PM on Mondays here), or coming early before Mass (we have exposition for the 90 minutes prior to the early weekday Mass). Oh, and here's a link to listen to that Advent playlist.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

What Is The King's Glory?

A lot of people are snowed in today so I'm posting this quickly this morning for those looking for a homily. Those who are St. Wenceslaus parishioners also got a update on the sanctuary renovation and need to click here to vote this week (some bad news and some major good news has changed some things.)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Jesus, the High Priest, and Worship

Catholics have largely ceased to talk about worship. Some have relegated it to just a style of music and prayer ("praise and worship"), or assumed it is just a feeling we might sometimes feel in private prayer (like thankfulness), or have just abandoned it altogether as an unmodern idea. But at every Mass we worship the Father because we are in the Son, and so his high-priestly worship—on the cross and in the heavenly sanctuary—are our worship. We are "sons in the Son", therefore we are "priests in the High Priest".

33rd Sunday of the Year, Cycle B

Jesus, the High Priest, and Worship

The last few weeks I have been, unintentionally, ignoring the 2nd reading

There is this long run from the Letter to the Hebrews at end of this cycle 

Great stuff there 

And an angle we don’t get a lot: We get tons of Paul... and some John and Peter 

So to start we are going to look at 4 little vignettes from recent weeks

Start way back on p. 74 (29th Sunday)

Brothers and sisters: 
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, 
Jesus, the Son of God
let us hold fast to our confession. 
For we do not have a high priestwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, 
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,yet without sin. 
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

The author of Hebrews doesn’t just focus on Jesus as king, but heavily on him as priest. He also see the Ascension as not just Jesus leaving us, promising the Spirit, and then waiting to come back at the end of time. He sees the Ascension as the moment the real High Priest enters the Real Sanctuary. And this is why he can intercede for us at the throne. That’s a priestly role, not a kingly one.

Then, 30th Sunday, quotes Psalm 110 twice. A psalm of the Messiah as king but also the priest:

it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: 
You are my son: this day I have begotten you; 
just as he says in another place: 
You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

We hear about Melchizedek in Eucharistic Prayer I. Jesus is a priest, but not in the line of the Aaron and the other Levites; remember he is from the line of David (tribe of Judah), but the author says he’s a priest in the way Melchizedek was, who was also a priest and a king.

Now, jump ahead to 32nd Sunday:

Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, 
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.  
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, 
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; 
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world.  

Hebrews says that the sanctuary Moses made with the desert tabernacle and that Solomon made in Jerusalem were just rough copies: Moses saw the real heavenly sanctuary and is told to imitate it. But at the Ascension Jesus goes into the real and better sanctuary and offers himself and his worship.

And “Not repeatedly”. The high priest would go through the veil (remember this phrase) into the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, to sprinkle blood and say the sacred name. But that doesn’t actually take away sins, so he repeats it yearly. Jesus only offers himself once. Protestants sometimes accuse Catholics of thinking we are re-sacrificing Jesus every time we are at Mass. No. There is one sacrifice, but we come back to it again and again.

Finally, this Sunday’s reading:

Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.  
But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, 
and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; 
now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.  
For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.

Here we hear again about the once-for-all sacrifice and Jesus’ intercessory role. And then the line about the footstool brings us back to Psalm 110 again.

So now, let’s take all that and see how it is all brought together in a hymn, “Alleluia, Sign to Jesus” (half the Mass had this one this weekend). #732

Alleluia! King Eternal,  
Thee the Lord of lords we own;  
Alleluia! born of Mary,  
Earth Thy footstool, Heaven Thy throne. 
Thou within the veil hast entered,  
Robed in flesh, our great High Priest
Thou on earth both Priest and Victim  
In the Eucharistic Feast.

Hymn is saying, this Eucharistic feast is also a sacrifice

And he is both the priest and the sacrifice itself—the victim

Veil is in temple, separating the main sanctuary inner Holy of Holies

One sacrifice, offered once for all, by a perfect priest who is also the messianic king

Jesus’ sacrifice has done all these things, which the previous priesthood and temple worship could never do

King and priest forever interceding for us at the right hand of the Father

<<Close books>>

Why did we just do that scripture search?

What Jesus did on the cross wasn’t just this great act of love.

Wasn’t even just an act of self sacrifice for sins.

Or even an just example of how we have to empty ourselves in humility.

All those, but also an act of worship

Notice the difference: old temple in Jerusalem built on the Temple Mount was filled with these Levitical priests, offering burnt sacrifices of lambs and goats, bull and turtles doves

Jesus makes a different act of worship, with a different kind of victim, on a different hill. 

A hill outside the city

And a different kind of sacrifice:

Not just animals that are offered again and again as a reminder that we are sinful, but himself who is able to actually remove sin

So Jesus on the cross is not just a reconciling, make-up-for-sins sacrifice with God, but also worship

I think actually all Christians agree that Jesus on the cross is offering perfect worship to the Father

But I also think we as modern Catholic are especially bad at forgetting that that was a worshipful act 

That the perfect lamb was being offered in worship of the Father

And that that is what we are doing when we come to Mass

I think “worship” has largely disappeared from the Catholic vocabulary. Or at least had its meaning narrowed to match non-catholic ideas about worship

I had an elective in school called the inter-seminary seminar: four students from Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Moravian seminaries

Myself and another seminarian were in the group that had a paper presented by a Presbyterian on worship, focusing on the kind of music chosen in services. 

All we two did was just follow their lead: songs, prayers, postures, instruments….

At the end the Lutheran professor present asked: “How did you have an hour long convesration with two Catholics in the room and we never once heard mention of the Eucharist?”

Oops, we messed that up!

We had given up on the term “worship”

And maybe even the concept of worship

Even we as seminarians

We would’ve probably said if asked what we do at Mass: Well, you go to pray. 

Or we would’ve said, and essentially did say, that worship was this individual thing that a person may do at the Mass.

Or worse, we might have just relegated it to being a feeling, like praise or thanks sometimes are treated.

But that is not what the Christian tradition tells we are to do: to only give thanks when we are feeling thankful, or to praise individually when are hearts are full of praise.

When we come together we DO praise and thank and worship together—objectively—and hopefully as a result of doing it we begin to feel the feelings of praise and thankfulness. 

Some years back Miss Manners was asked by a parent if they should make their kids write thank you letters for gifts if the kids didn’t real feel thankful for them. MM insisted yes. We don’t write them because we feel particularly thankful. She said something like: I have written thousands of thank yous, and I hope that eventually writing them will make me be as thankful as what I wrote. We write them so we can start to grow into the feeling.

CS Lewis says something similar about our Christian virtues. We don’t need to feel courage to love or faith. We do the actions in the hope that the feeling will come along later.

Same with worship. We do it (and praise and thanks) so that the feeling of those will eventually catch up to what we are doing.

That is one of the reasons I have enjoyed this past year of us praying together with the priest ad orientem.

Not just because it helps us focus better (though it probably does)

Not just because it might help us pray better (though it probably does)

Because, again, those are individual things.

But it helps us get a sense that we are worshiping 

Objectively, collectively worshipping

Regardless of how we feel today

And we can do this because are In Jesus 

That’s the whole thing we are trying to clarify, we are worshiping the Father in Jesus.

His worship is our worship.

<<diagram in the air>>

Here’s the Trinity <triangle of fingers> Father, Son, and Spirit.

Sin divides us from God. There is a chasm there. And we are on the other side.

So while we are still sinners, the Spirit swoops down, and scoops us up, and puts us—through baptism—into Jesus.

We are in Christ. Whatever relation he has to the Father and Spirit, we have.

That is why we are “Christians”


Not Fatherians and Spritians

Because we are in Christ

In Jesus, worshiping the Father with Jesus 

This last week I was asked a question about this on the internet. Someone had read my homily on ad orientem and asked: “But why do that? Surely Jesus didn’t have his back to the apostles at the Last Super.”


In fact, that was Martin Luther’s point

Jesus was of course facing them at the Last Supper

But we as Catholics insist that what we do at Mass is not just the Last Supper

It i the LS meal, but it is also Christ on the Cross and Hebrews description of Him entering heavenly sanctuary and offering his sacrifice and worship

Luther’s point was “The eucharist is just a meal”

“There is definitely not sacrifice happening at Mass”

“What happened on Calvary, and what Hebrews is all about, is not what is happening at Mass.”

“Catholic Church is crazy for thinking Mass is a sacrifice.”

We of course disagree with him. 

Your Czech ancestors resisted German Lutherans trying to tell them for 400 years “It was just a meal. Face each other; it’s just a meal.”

My Irish ancestors resisted English trying to tell them for 400 years “It was just a meal. Face each other; it’s just a meal.”

But this is a secondary topic. The main point:

Jesus shows us that what he is doing is worshipping the Father 

Church says that if we are in Jesus through baptism then our vocation is to worship the Father as well

When we come together at Mass, yes, we do pray individually, and we do have or individual moments of praise and thanksgiving...

And there is a moment when we do receive the meal from the altar…

But it’s main thing is that we are worshipping

We are standing with and in Jesus, worshipping his Father

And I think we have largely lost that in recent decades, including myself and that other seminarian

Yes, there are times that are communal… and there  are times that are worshipful

There are times that we are horizontally connected, and times that that we are vertically focused

We do both.

So, the Letter to the Hebrews is a thing we need to revisit from time to time to remind us why we are here. 

Not just to be chummy, not just for fellowship, not here just to be a family

But to be a family that worships, adores, praises, love, and honor 

And we do that with Jesus and in Jesus the way he did that on the cross and the way he does when he enters that perfect sanctuary in heaven.