The Abdication of Pope Benedict XVI
A Gracious Humility, A Beautiful Serenity
While the chattering classes natter on about the strength or weakness of Benedict’s legacy (a topic of this column at a later date), can we all just realize that Benedict’s stunning news is really a family affair? Catholics the world over are amazed at the gracious humility and beautiful serenity shown by our Holy Father who admits to his loved ones that declining energy and the travails of old age force him to withdraw into a peaceful retirement.
Rather than exuberant over this growing news story, Catholics have been touched with a little bit of sadness as a familiar member of our family must say farewell to the world stage. It is a farewell rather similar to former President Ronald Reagan’s "Goodbye to America Letter" when he admitted the ravages of Alzheimer’s curtailed any more public appearances. We have a thankful sadness, and a grateful sorrow as we wish the Pope well.
The Pope will not get a pass by the elite media. He shouldn’t expect to. One of the last pontiffs to resign, Celestine V, found himself placed in hell in Dante’s Inferno for the supposed sin of resigning the papacy. God save us from the opinions of negative people who seek to find the worst in those called to walk the world’s stage and bear the burdens of the day. Fortunately, history and the passage of years are far kinder to popes.
One of the first editorials to be written on the subject started out this way, "He never had a chance." (John Moody, Fox News.com, 2/11/13) Pope Benedict, knowing that he stood in the shadow of Pope John Paul the Great, once said that in history there are big popes and small popes. He was satisfied with being a small pope.
That humble assessment most likely will be proved wrong through the lens of history, but how wonderful it is to see such a virtue in action. Wherever he has gone, his shy smile and his reaching out to the millions who came to see him, captivated people. What he lacked in exuberance, he made up for with real warmth. Surprisingly, the people found a loving father rather than God’s Rottweiler. And the more they discovered this, the greater the crowds grew. And to the dismay of many of the intelligentsia, the youth loved him, sang to him, and embraced him.
There is a beautiful serenity about this Pope. Remember he was elected Pope at 78, a time when most folks yearn to slow down. For nearly eight years, he has firmly and steadfastly guided the Church through a most tumultuous time. Now he is ready to conform his soul to God with the time he has left. No one can or should begrudge him that. A gracious humility, a beautiful serenity–and one more thing: an amazing courage to say goodbye to those of us who have loved him so well.
THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME--1/22/95By Msgr. Eric R. Barr, STL
READINGS: I COR 12:12-30; LUKE 1:1-4; 4:14-21
I. Issues of Life Cannot Be Taken For Granted
A. Our kids are back from the March for Life in Washington, D.C. where they joined over 650,000 others on a snowy day to stand up and walk to demonstrate their support for the dignity of human life in whatever stage we find it. Their surety, their certainty, their faithfilled witness is very similar to what we hear in the Gospel today, namely, that Jesus came forth and began his public ministry knowing what he believed and not afraid to speak the truth.
B. Several years ago, I gave a pro-life homily where I described a man who had an 80 year old father who was terminally ill. The old man asked his son to help him die by giving him an overdose of medication. Later in my homily, I pointed out that it is morally wrong for the son to give his father that overdose of medication. You can put sick dogs to sleep but you may not kill your father. Imagine my surprise when I walk into the eighth grade classroom a couple of days later and look at one of the favorite classes I have taught and see their innocent faces as they say in innocent surprise--"You mean we can't help an older person die? We can't give them an overdose of medication even if they ask for it?" Out of the mouths of kids!! Many of them really thought that was OK. Well you can imagine, I was pretty shocked, but I wasn't mad at them. I was just shocked that our civilization under the disguise of choice and freedom has descended to this barbaric level, where innocent children think its OK to put terminally ill people to death like old dogs are put to sleep at the vet.
C. Clearly, in the families of these kids, and, in fact, in all our families, life issues are just not being talked about. And if you think I'm going to get on parents' cases here, I'm not. I was going to until I realized it's not your fault either. We grew up in a society that believed in the sacredness of life until forty years ago when the Supreme Court allowed abortion on demand. Since that time, besides 55 million lives being snuffed out by abortion, we are now moving towards the position that old people, the sick, the retarded, those not valued by society can be killed or not given medical treatment. We never used to have to talk about life issues, because everybody valued life. No longer. Now we have to teach our kids in this area too.
D. I am here today to urge you parents and grandparents--all who teach the young--to talk to your kids and tell them the truth of our faith, that we stand for human life in all its forms, and that we believe it is not in our power to kill innocent human life. It is wrong to commit suicide, it is wrong to help others do it, it is wrong to have an abortion, it is wrong to help others do it, it is wrong to silence the voices of the weakest members of society.
E. And hear me clearly. The Catholic Church's position on human life is very easy to understand, and very easy to teach. And if you are Catholic, you must believe it. And if you don't believe, leave and join this wonderful secular society that is very willing to kill you if you don't fit in.
II. The Church's Position on Life Issues
A. On Abortion--You know the Church's position--it is the position of our faith--no direct abortion is allowed. We have not been given the power to kill innocent life. This will never change, just like the 5th commandment will never change--"You shall not kill!" To teach your children anything else is to teach them to walk in darkness and evil.
B. On Euthanasia--The direct killing of the sick, or helping the sick kill themselves is gravely wrong. We have not been given the power to kill innocent life--even if it is our own. The 5th commandment says, "You shall not Kill!" To teach your children anything else is to teach them to walk in darkness and evil.
--To let nature take its course at the natural time of death is one thing. You don't have to take extraordinary measures to prolong your life, if you are in the process of dying.
--But you cannot do anything to a sick person that will directly cause his/her death.
C. On Genetic Manipulation--Picking the sex of a child, creating a super race, aborting a child because its genes show that it won't be as tall as Dad or as pretty as Mom, using fetal material from aborted fetuses to help others who are sick, all this is gravely wrong, and our teaching on it will not change. Killing people to supposedly help humanity is a violation of the 5th commandment--"You shall not kill!" To teach your children anything else is to teach them to walk in darkness and evil.
III. The Church Tells Us That Human Life Is Hope
A. Don't be silent in talking about these issues. Teach your children, learn yourselves that our faith values life. Human life is human hope! Look at what St. Paul says today in the second reading. Each of us is part of the Body of Christ. "There are indeed many different members but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you,' any more than the head can say to the feet, 'I do not need you.' Even those members of the body which seem less important are in fact indispensable." St. Paul goes on to say to each one of us, "You then are the body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it." That means born and pre-born, retarded or smart, handicapped or athletic, old or young, rich or poor. Through the Scriptures God has said this; God has made it so. Who are we to go against him?
B. I challenge any of you who disagree with me to look through your Bible and see where the rationale for abortion is; where the argument for euthanasia, where the reasoning for fetal experimentation and genetic manipulation. The Scriptures and our faith tradition are unanimously clear--there is a respect for life that must be present because of the one who gave us all life--God! In the Gospel today, Jesus came to announce Good News--a message of life for all those who were close to the darkness of death. No where does Jesus take human life. He preserves it, honors it, protects it, treasures human life.
C. I am asking you; I am begging you, believe what the Church says for she is right and speaks God's truth--No more death! No more abortion! No more Euthanasia! No more mocking the gift of life through experimentation on human embryos and harvesting cells from aborted fetuses to use as medicine! No more thinking that freedom and choice means doing whatever you want to! No more death!
D. I want to walk into a classroom of Catholic kids and hear them say, "We believe in the right to life!" They deserve to grow up with that truth. I don't want to have to explain the Church's position to them. I want them to have already heard it from their parents and grandparents--and I want them to believe that truth. I want them to shout, "We love life! We respect it in all its human forms. We will care for the young, we will be there for the old, we will give the ultimate decision of death to God not to ourselves. We will not manipulate humanity. We love life!" That's what I want to hear. That's what you must teach them. If you are confused and don't understand, if you are troubled and are unsure what to say, look at the Catechism that so many of you bought, read the Bishop's letter in our bulletin, believe what I say, believe what St. Paul has said, believe what Jesus stood for: Human life is precious. Guide it, guard it, save it, protect it, treasure it. We are Catholic. We love life. And we will never change! We will never weaken! We will never abandon those who are small and helpless! We love life, for human life is a precious and holy thing, given by the God who holds us all in the palm of his hand.
READINGS: ISAIAH 62:1-5; I CORINTHIANS 12:4-11; JOHN 2:1-12
When I think of the word "Catholic", there are so many things that come to mind: the Eucharist, the Rosary, First Communion, Confession, Parish Festivals, things like that. And I know you’ll think it strange, but when I think of the word "Catholic" my mind conjures up for me an Irish Tavern on Connecticut Street in Washington, D.C. It’s called the 4 Provinces and when I was in the seminary, during my time at graduate school, it was one of my Catholic places to be. On a Friday or Saturday night, I would gather eight to ten of my friends, and we’d take the Metro to the 4 Provinces, where we would grab a center table for a very holy night. It was a great pub back in those days. Slinking in the shadows were those who looked like they might belong to the IRA–an element of danger. Out and about on the other tables were the yuppies of Georgetown or tourists from all over the world. And then there was us–seminarians from The Catholic University of America, quaffing Guinness, slamming our glasses on the table as we sang with the Irish band of love and betrayal, country and glory, God and wonder–and it was fantastic. Almost everyone in there was Catholic. We felt at home, knowing that not all churches are full of stained glass. I remember the singer in the band, a lovely girl with a golden voice. She was singing an old Irish Song, called the Leaving of Liverpool–of how Irish sailors had to leave the ones they loved for Austrailia, and she sang it perfectly. We all toasted her performance and she called out from the stage. "Well thank you lads. I can tell from your response you must either be sailors or seminarians!" Which caused us all to laugh. It was her standard line given when a crowd of young men liked her song. And we invited the band over and bought them a drink and told the singer that yes indeed we were seminarians. Even in the dim light of the 4 Provinces, we could see her blush and we all laughed again. It was a great time to be young. I’ve been there seldom since and to this day when I see my friends from those times, we still talk about the great fun we had, but no one asks why it was fun. It’s not that the place was Irish. It’s not that the beer was good. It’s not even that we were young and guys do stuff like that. These were memorable times because friends came together, we sang, we drank responsibly, we laughed, we welcomed the stranger, we were perfectly and totally human. And when that happens–the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and in the ordinary, God is made present. It’s a sacramental moment. And that’s just what happened at the Wedding Feast of Cana.
I. Where Christ Is, There Is Life; Where Christ Is Not, Life Decays!
A. You can just hear the steward gasping in surprise, "This was water, now it’s wine, and the best I’ve ever tasted. How did you do this?" And I think Jesus never answered; instead, throughout the day in Cana of Galilee, when those who were enjoying the wedding celebration saw Jesus, they would say, "Wherever he goes, he brings life!" That’s what they would say.
B. Christ couldn’t bear to see a wedding feast destroyed--so he acted. Whatever he touched, turned to life. A stable became a Church; a wedding became even more joyful, sick people became well; women were recognized and given dignity; sinners were forgiven, a funeral procession became a celebration of life. Where Christ is, there is life. And where Christ is not, life decays. When Herod’s soldiers entered Bethlehem--they didn’t find the Baby Jesus, but they found all the boys two years old and under and killed them. When Jesus was twelve and absent from Mary and Joseph in Jerusalem, they thought they’d lost him--and they were distraught, their family in crisis. When Judas left Jesus at the Last Supper and went out into the night, he left Christ and Judas was left with evil plots and his own despair, and finally his death. Where Christ is not, life decays.
C. Christ became human so that we might become more like God. What that means is simply this: Christ came to give life, and by his example he shows us how to do the same. There is so much more going on here than just the discovery of a few more jugs of White Zinfandel for a wedding. Where Christ is, there is life; where Christ is not, life decays.
So we are faced with the choice: are we going to stay with Christ and be givers of life, or are we going to leave Jesus and become givers of death?
II. Stay Close To Christ Through The Sacraments
A. John’s Gospel was written to answer the question: "Now that the witnesses of Christ are all dead, how will we ever keep in touch with our Lord–who will tell us his stories; how will be experience his Presence?
B. And John gives the answer: You will stay in touch with Christ when you stay close to the Church and the Sacraments he gave her. The wedding feast at Cana tells us that with Christ, marriage is holy; without the presence of the Lord of love, marriage is in trouble. The feeding of the five thousand, another big miracle in John’s Gospel, tells us that Christ is the bread of life. By eating him, we live; away from him we starve in the desert.
1. Jesus takes the ordinary things of the earth-wine, water, bread, marriage, birth, death, sickness, forgiveness, and infuses all these things with his presence in the sacraments so that the things of earth become doorways to heaven, ways of encountering God, chances at being in touch with Jesus.
2. That’s what John is trying to get across in his Gospel. He’s telling us that Jesus didn’t leave us; he is with us in special ways now, through signs and wonders that communicate his presence and give life.
3. I hesitated telling that story from my days as a student. Even some Catholics are afflicted with a joyless religion. In my time as a priest, I’ve had to endure criticism from those who were not Catholic telling me that Catholics party too much, that they are not serious enough, that they have a rough and tumble religion which reflects poorly on Christianity. And I’ve always fought that. Christ was found in the middle of ordinary life. He made ordinary life holy. That’s the sacramental nature of our faith. I’m not talking just about the 7 sacraments. I’m talking about the sacramental nature of our faith which finds God in every part of life. Jesus showed us that the things of the world could allow us to see God.
III. Why Catholic?
A. What’s frightening in our day and age is how willing some Catholics are just to chuck the whole sacramental system and say it doesn’t matter. It’s like saying I’d rather watch a movie on an i-pod rather than in a theater, or listen to music coming from a single speaker rather than a stereo system, or eating oatmeal each and every day for the rest of your life instead of sitting down to a feast. Catholics are in dangter of walking away from the one sure way of encountering Christ. We can’t let that happen.
I write a column for the Diocese of Rockford paper, The Observer. Thought it was worth posting this week's effort.
THE COMING CATHOLIC PERSECUTION
by Eric R. Barr, STL
Or perhaps it’s already here. Catholic pulpits throughout this nation have sometimes thundered about loss of religious liberty in this country, but many of the faithful have simply looked back at their bishops and priests with bemused expressions of disbelief.
Raised on stories of martyrs, perhaps they do not consider any persecution real unless it comes with lions and tigers and bears in the Roman Coliseum. But that’s not how this persecution is beginning. It is starting with a whisper, a tentative probing to see if it can get away with smacking Christianity. And those who persecute have found they can.
The most recent damning evidence occurred with the coming presidential inauguration. An evangelical pastor, Rev. Louie Giglio , was forced to pull out of giving the benediction at the famed event because twenty years ago he gave a sermon against same sex marriage. The inauguration committee responded, "As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans."
Think about it. That statement excludes any orthodox Catholic, in fact, any orthodox Christian, and Catholics are the most organized and vocal proponents of traditional marriage. For the first time, the beliefs of our religion exclude us from being a part of a president’s inauguration.
Add to that the continued govermental hostility toward our beliefs as regards Obamacare, the mockery of our faith in the media, and the hostility shown by the secular world to pro-life beliefs in our culture. Don’t believe this? In just a few weeks, we will have the annual March to Life and this year’s is expected to be huge–hundreds of thousands of people. Check the media coverage–or not. For years the secular media totally ignores this huge protest. Why? Because they hate what we believe.
These issues may seem small to some. But they represent the evolving opinion of the state–and it is not friendly to us. It will be a while before Catholics are dragged out of their homes and killed. But death by a thousand cuts is as sure of a death as perishing in the arena. This culture prefers to kill us slowly. The question is, "Are we even going to rise up and respond?"
Some believe columns like this resemble Chicken Little crying falsely that the sky is falling. To those who feel that way, start listening to what the Pope is saying–he too expects persecution. Start listening to what are bishops are saying–they have definitely sounded the alarm. And start listening to what your priests are saying–have a talk with them about all of this.
No need to panic; rather, start standing up courageously for what Catholics believe. Speak about it in the workplace, among neighbors and friends. Find a way to use those Confirmation gifts of the Spirit that gave us all the courage to be Catholic in the secular sphere. Maybe it’s easier to just shorten all of this with this statement: "Be a saint!" We may not stop what is coming, but at least we will stand up for what is right–and that may be all that is needed to triumph.
I. All This Has Happened Before; All This Will Happen Again
A. So whispers the world as it looks on all events, great and small, good and evil, light and dark. All this has happened before; all this will happen again. As if we are caught in a neverending circle of history repeating itself over and over. Yet a glance at what’s happened with humanity over the centuries seems to prove this true. An endless cycle of wars, poverty, famine, violence intermixed with a little be of love, light and goodness. The atheists and secularists have had a field day lately pointing out the absence of God through our great tragedies this fall–Hurricane Sandy and the slaughter of the Innocents in Conneticut. A famous Christmas Carol echoes that sentiment: even though you can hear bells on Christmas day, hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men.
B. But I wonder if they are right. Many years ago, wise men from the East looked up at the night sky and did not see darkness; they saw only hope gleaming from the light of a shining star. Don’t you want to know; don’t you want to believe; don’t you want to see that maybe there is a God who really loves and cares for us? Come with me for a few minutes, and let’s travel the years back in time, century after century, and let’s go to the noble country of Egypt three thousand two hundred years ago.
C. There on the banks of the Nile, Pharaoh made a momentous decision. The foreigners in his land, the Israelites, who he had made slaves were becoming too numerous. He worried about his power. So he commanded his soldiers to take their horses, their chariots and their charioteers to the land of Goshen and there slaughter all the male children two years old and younger. And so it happened. Wailing and loud lamentation in the Israelite homes that night. Innocent babies slaughtered at will. And the world whispered a little more loudly: All this has happened before; all this will happen again. Evil had full sway; darkness overshadowed the land of Egypt.
D. But, that was not the end of the story. As the Israelites tell it, and it has to be the Israelites because the Egyptians are too ashamed and confused to say more; as the Israelites tell it, the One God stretched forth his hand, entered human history, and saved a baby boy who would save his people–and that baby’s name?–Moses. In later years he faced down Pharaoh, freed his people, and took them to the Promised Land. Out of the ashes of that terrible murder of children, God made history go in a different direction and set his seal on the hearts and souls of the Jewish People to do God’s will on earth. The crossing of the Red Sea, the entrance into the Promises Land, said that though it looks like history just repeats itself, every once in a while, God steps in and makes all things new.
E. But no, say the atheists and secularists. Evil did not disappear, violence did not diminish, hatred was not dead. Look at your feeble Christmas, they say. The very first one was shrouded with hatred, scorn and death. No room in the inn for the so-called Christ Child, and much more real than the fantasies of angels and talking beasts was the rage of a mad king, every bit as evil as Pharaoh. Two thousand years ago, it happened. Shadowy soldiers mounted on steeds, horses blacker than the blackest midnight. Riders in the night.
F. Out of the dark night they came, riding, riding, silent but for the pounding of horses' hooves–the horses of Herod. Soldiers rode those steeds, soldiers of the king, and they rode towards Bethlehem at the command of the king. The king had a rival to the throne, so said Herod, and that rival must die. But the rival was only a tiny child, and because he did not know that child's name the king decreed that all the baby boys under the age of two must die, so that the king might feel safe and get on with his life. And so the soldiers rode, rode down upon a sleepy town when blood red streaks of dawn were just appearing in the eastern sky. They ripped the babies from their mother's breasts, took them from their cribs, snatched them from their homes and murdered them. The mothers who cried out, they died too. It was over in less than ten minutes, and when they had gone and a single wail of an anguished woman pierced the shocked silence, an old man, a prophet he was walked the streets of Bethlehem crying, "A voice was heard in the city, weeping and loud lamentation, it was Rachel weeping for her children because they are no more." And the world whispered a little more loudly: All this has happened before; all this will happen again. Evil had full sway; darkness overshadowed the City of David. And looking back on that event the atheists and the secularists say, "Where was God? Stuck at the manger looking at his so-called Son? Pushing Mother Mary and the elderly Joseph to flee? So puffed up with pride and selfishness that he couldn’t save those Holy Innocents? No higher power rules earth–surely we should be able to see that." That’s what they say as the refrain grows louder–All this has happened before; all this will happen again."
G. But that’s not really how the story goes is it? As the Jews said of Moses so now the Christians say of Jesus: God reached into history and through his power gave us his Son Jesus who is the Savior of the World. Herod’s men slunk the in the shadows of the night, but our God walked the pathway of the stars down to us to give us Christ the Light of the World. That was his answer to horrific evil. The bodies of the Innocents would not be raised on earth’s soil, but because of Christ and salvation he brought, they would not die they would live in glory forever. Herod’s own fury, his own evil personifying the evil present in the world, is a testimony to the power of Christ. The Child should be feared by all dark powers and all people who have shadow in their hearts–he really is powerful enough to destroy death forever. The little martyrs for Christ who died so long ago simply passed through death’s door to live forever in glory.
H. But the atheists and secularists bluster and say, "The world went on didn’t it, and violence, terror and hatred, greed, lust and pride still hold sway. Can’t you people see?" they ask. Look at what your impotent God has done. One and half weeks ago, a mad man young in years but with an ancient evil in his heart, carried out his own slaughter of innocents. Tiny children and their teachers. Who didn’t weep when they were told of teachers cradling children in their arms as the shooter killed all of them. Unspeakable evil. Where is your God?" And as they speak, their voices are drowned out by the cry of the world, "All this has happened before; and all this will happen again."
II. The Spirit Lives
A. And I think in our low moments we have thought like this over the past week. How can we celebrate Christmas in the midst of such sorrow. But I tell you this, If God could stretch out his hand and enter history, raising up Moses to save his people so long ago, if God could become flesh, incarnate as Jesus Christ to save all humanity, what will God do now to counteract the evil we have experienced?
B. That very first Christmas was fraught with danger and confusion. Good and evil mix it up that way in real life. No one knew for sure that the Child in the manger was God’s answer to the problem of suffering. There was hope, but Jesus was not ready to grab a sword and fight Herod. He could only reach for his mother Mary. Only now in hindsight do we see the power of his death and resurrection, the power of his Church which does so much good, and only now can we turn to the world that says looking at the massacre of the Holy Innocents in Conneticut, "All this has happened before and all this will happen again. Only now can we say, "Silence." Listen. The world no longer speaks.
C. Want to know why? Because it is Christmas again. Just as the Christ came to us 2000 years ago, so because of the power of his Holy Spirit he has come again into our hearts. And he has bid us to be his hands, his voice, his eyes, his arms, his strength, his love to the world. We are to do deeds of glory now, in his name. We are the ones to fight the darkness. We are his Chosen who proclaim Jesus Christ as Wonder Counselor, Father forever, Prince of Peace. The world and the skeptics would like to say that history just goes round and round, but we know better. Jesus Christ has made his Church his presence in the world today. Each of us must fight, each of us must battle, each of us must be Jesus to everyone we meet so that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall never overcome it.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT--12/23/12
Several years ago, I printed a Christmas poem by the famous early 20th Century author, G. K. Chesterton. I've always loved it because it sums up so clearly the wonder and mystery, as well as the humble simplicity of Christmas. I give it to you again this year:
There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,
And never before or again,
When the nights are strong with a darkness long,
And the dark is alive with rain.
Never we know but in sleet and in snow,
the place where the great fires are,
That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth
And the heart of the earth a star.
And at night we win to the ancient inn
Where the Child in the frost is furled,
We follow the feet where all souls meet
At the inn at the end of the world.
The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.
Did you know that in early Christianity, much was made of the fact that when Christ was born, the old pagan gods either died, or vanished, or lost their importance? The coming of Christ was seen as a new creation, a new breath of life; and the manger was seen as the home for all people who deeply desired peace and joy. When we look at our world today, it seems like the old pagan gods have reared their decadent heads again. The greed, the lust, the violence, the hate, the self-indulgence that was wrapped up in those old gods are alive and well today. That has only happened because we have forgotten the truth in the poem above. And what is that truth: CHRIST HAS COME AND HAS DEFEATED SIN, DARKNESS, AND DEATH!
We long for an end to violence; we shall find peace in Bethlehem. We long for an end to sorrow; we shall find joy in the manger. We long for an end to hate; we shall find love wrapped in swaddling clothes. A home where the fires of love burn, a home where the laughter of joy is heard, a home where the embrace of peace is felt--that is the home we shall find in the lowly stable where the Child sleeps next to his Mother Mary.
Come home to where the Child lives and say farewell to the dark ideas of our day and age that seek to bring the deep night of paganism. For Christ the Light of the World is born anew in our hearts this Christmas, and if we invite Him to stay in our lives, we shall be saved from our sins, delivered from our sorrow, and lifted out of darkness. Rejoice all families and friends of St. Mary/St. Patrick Parish, for unto us is born today our Savior Jesus Christ who has come to bring us home!
IS BILBO BAGGINS CATHOLIC? REVIEWING THE HOBBIT
A great Irish saint once said, "We are but guests of the world...life is a journey and we are all pilgrims along the way." Sort of sums up the Catholic belief that the journey is part of what it means to be alive and what we do with what we have been given determines how well we have accepted God’s gift of life. So does that make Bilbo Baggins Catholic? Nope. Everything in Middle-earth is set long before the coming of Christ. But as a book and a film, The Hobbit is indeed Catholic in theme, scope and heart.
The first of three movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a delight. Yes, it is long, but just to go back to Middle-earth and see old friends and go on new adventures is really like coming home again. There has never been anything like this in cinema history. No need to go into details about how good the acting is, or how new technology makes it even easier on the eyes, or how much money this extravaganza is going to make. You can read other reviews for that. Here, though, you can find out why this movie is so drenched with Catholic values and heart.
First, the Ordinary is really the Extraordinary. Tolkien’s true hero is always the normal guy. Bilbo Baggins is us. Nice little life, nice little income, a house, family, friends, everything he needs to be happy he has. He seems incapable of heroism. But Tolkien surrounds him with the community of the Shire who with hard work, love and care have given the little hobbit strengths he didn’t think he had. When the film brings Saruman and Gandalf together, Saruman says that only the noble can defeat evil, and Gandalf disagrees. He believes the strongest resistance to evil is given by ordinary men and women, the small folk, who day by day chase away the darkness through their daily acts of goodness. That’s why Gandalf trusts Bilbo.
Second, everyone has a destiny. One of the dramatic questions in the film is whether Bilbo will embrace the destiny he has been given. He has a choice, but Gandalf the wizard tells him there is a right choice and a wrong choice. If he goes on the journey, he will be changed; nothing will be the same again. Rather than sounding ominous, the chance to embrace a destiny intrigues Bilbo. If he stays home, the promise of change, growth, and wonder will disappear.
Third, courage, loyalty, and friendship will see a person through terrible trials. Underneath these three values lies selflessness. The greedy dwarves, the fearful Bilbo hardly look like heroes, but they rise to the occasion when faced with danger. They are not perfect heroes, but they do not discard what is noble in themselves. Instead, they act on it and achieve greatness.
Fourth, there is great beauty and goodness in the world. No darkness can extinguish the presence of the Creator’s hand. No one ever mentions God in the film, but they don’t have to. Director Peter Jackson’s spectacular use of the ethereal beauty of New Zealand drives into our consciousness that no Necromancer, no darkness, no evil can be stronger than good. The land is good, the people are good, what is dark does not belong in the world. We know that if the company of dwarves, hobbit and wizard can remain faithful to what’s good in themselves, there will be help given to deliver them from evil.
Fifth, Mercy runs throughout the film. Gandalf tells Frodo when he gives him the sword "Sting" that true heroism isn’t about taking life, it’s about knowing when to give rather than take life. In one of the climatic scenes of the film and book, Bilbo has a chance to kill Gollum, but he chooses mercy instead. He doesn’t know, but we do, that if he had killed Gollum–and the wretched creature surely deserved death–Sauron in later years would win the War of the Ring because Gollum would not be there to plunge it into Mt. Doom. It is Bilbo’s act of mercy in this film that ultimately saves all Middle Earth sixty years hence during the War of the Ring.
There will be some who might quibble that these are not specifically Catholic values. But they would be wrong. Look at our world; look at the violence we have had to endure as the year comes to an end. No atheist, no secularist, indeed no other religion stands out as clearly as Catholicism to say that these values still have power to defeat evil. Christmas tells us that always the light will prevail. Thank God. And thank J. R. R. Tolkien for telling a tale with the same values–a story to give us hope and light, here in the bleak mid-winter.
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT--12/16/12
READING: LK 3:10-18
READING: LK 3:10-18
CHRISTMAS IN PALESTINE 30 A.D.
On the thirtieth Christmas, in the year 30 A.D. a woman went walking by the Jordan River. She had come visiting relatives in a nearby town, and now she was walking by the Jordan River. It was a chaotic time in Palestine. The Romans were as oppressive as ever, there was talk of Messiahs in the land, there was much talk of violence, of endings, of death--as if the sky was going to fall and crush the mountains into the valleys until the earth was flatter than a pancake. I don't know if that was really going to happen, but it was how people felt.
This woman was old by the standards of her day, about 45, with wisps of gray in her hair. She was not beautiful any longer but there were still hints in that gentle face of the beauty she had once been. She was walking by some scrub brush when she noticed a sparrow lying on the ground with its spindly little legs sticking straight up in the air. "What are you doing?" asked the woman as much to herself as to that little bird. But to her surprise she thought she heard the bird distinctly say, "I'm trying to keep the sky from falling! People are acting like the world is coming to an end. I'm trying to keep the sky from falling!" And the woman laughed gently and said, "Do you really think you will keep the sky from falling with those little legs of yours?" And the sparrow replied, "One does what one can; one does what one can."
The woman thought about this all the way to the Jordan River. She met a crowd there--they had come to see the new prophet, John the Baptist. John was telling the people that every valley would be filled in, every mountain would be laid low, people needed to prepare the way of the Lord! He was telling the soldiers how to live with honor, tax collectors how to live justly, husbands how to treat wives--he was giving everyone advice on how to prepare. "It won't matter," said a Pharisee to the woman. "The world as we know it is coming to an end--evil has got the upper hand. If God wanted evil to be gone, he'd make it gone. Our puny efforts don't matter much."
"No," said the woman, "you are wrong. The Baptist is right. To do the little things, to make each day better, that will keep the darkness away, that will prepare the way of the Lord." "And you,'" sneered the Pharisee, "why should you know so much? What have you ever done with your life that has made the world a better place?"
Just then, they heard the Baptist cry out, "There is one to come who is mightier than I. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire." The woman said to the Pharisee, "What have I done? I gave birth to a Son and raised him well!" "So have millions of other women," sneered the Pharisee, "'big deal--what difference does it make?" And the voice of John the Baptist was heard again, "There he is! Behold the Lamb of God! Hear him!" And the woman's Son appeared by the side of John the Baptist, and the mother smiled at the Pharisee and said, "What difference does it make that I had a Son? Well, sir, one does what one can; one does what one can."
I. Does Daily Goodness Matter?
A. As strange as it may seem, what that story is hinting at is what John the Baptist says clearly in the Gospel today--DO WHAT YOU CAN, AND MUCH WILL BE DONE. John the Baptist doesn't say, "Be a monk, be a desert prophet, give up your livelihood, sell your house, wait for the end of the world." John the Baptist doesn't ask us to live some kind of mournful life of fasting and penance all the time. John the Baptist says, "Transform, change your lives now, by keeping you eyes open to ways of doing good in your families, in your businesses. Do what you can to bring the Kingdom of God to the people you meet." John the Baptist says, if we see a poor person--we help him. John the Baptist tells us not to cheat, don't lie, look out for the other person. In whatever we do, we have to look for the chance to drive away the darkness we see around us.
B. I may not be able as an individual to wipe out crime, but I can teach young people about reverencing life and treating others with dignity. I may not be able to stop poverty in this nation, but I could reach out to a needy family, feed the homeless, or help a sick neighbor or friend and teach my neighbors to do the same. I may not be able to stop all the anger and rage that I see around me, or the cheating and dishonesty, but I can control my own anger, I can be honest, and I can teach the young to be the same. Do you see what I mean? If I do these things, I will let loose into the world people of sufficient numbers who will stop some of the evils we find around us. I cannot do everything, but I do what I can and I believe from what I do, much will be done, much will be accomplished.
II. Practical Application
A. If we do what we can to bring goodness into our part of the world, into our lives, then we will be bringing Jesus to others this Christmas. Why don't we sweep our little corner of the world clean from the darkness of jealousy, the blight of gossip, the plague of lying, the sickness of cheating, the violence of anger? This is called grass-roots morality--morality from the bottom up. Starting with ourselves and those around us.
B. John the Baptist has told us to repent, and we know what that means--it's time for the Sacrament of Penance. Two times are left, Monday evening at 7 pm for our Parish Celebration of that Sacrament and next Saturday at 11 AM. Grass roots morality starts with recognizing that we need to be down at the Jordan River with John the Baptist. We need to be in that group that he is talking to. We need to take a very serious look at how we are living our lives, not just the things we've done wrong, but the things we have neglected to do.
C. If we start with ourselves and how we relate to family and friends we can help steamroll goodness into the world. To remember that we are the hands of Christ, we are the voice of Jesus in the world today--this is the preparation we need to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Look at Mary. She was a peasant girl. She didn't recline on couches or lord it over her friends saying, "Hey, did you hear, I'm the Mother of God!" She spent all her time raising her Son, teaching him how to speak, to walk, to live in this world. Day by day, hour by hour, she did what she could, and look what she accomplished. On that thirtieth Christmas, if she really was down by the Jordan River, imagine how proud she was of her boy. She knew she had made a difference, even if the people were not yet aware of that. But they would be, oh, they soon would be. You think of that, you who have sons and daughters. You think of that, you who believe that you don't matter. You think of that you who feel you are too old to amount to much anymore. DO WHAT YOU CAN, AND MUCH WILL BE DONE! Each of us doing our part could help destroy the evil that remains in this world. Do what you can, so that Christ may transform the world, so that Christ may drive away the darkness, so that Christ may light our lives this Christmas.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT--12/9/12
READINGS: BARUCH 5:1-9; LUKE 3:1-6
I. The Baptist
A. Out of the desert he came, dressed in animal skins, smelling like the bone frying heat of the hot sun that tortured that land. The message he shouted to his people was a message born of years of prayer in that desert, years of listening to God, and that message, like the man who preached it was stripped to the bone, lean and strong: Prepare, repent, for the Lord is coming!
B. John the Baptist, that prophet everyone likes to admire but no one likes to come close to, represents the message we must take home with us this second Sunday of Advent: The beautiful, wonderful Kingdom of Peace of Joy of Love is coming, but we will never see it if we are not ready, and being ready takes specific preparation.
C. John's a really strange man: He is harsh, demanding, uncompromising all the while he is talking about Paradise. Why is this? Why has our faith always sounded like John the Baptist?
1. When I grew up, the priests and nuns who taught me gave me a vision of heaven that would put tears in your eyes it was so beautiful. And yet, they also taught that the way to heaven was not that simple--we couldn't live as we pleased, we couldn't do anything we wanted, we had to be sorry for our sins, and try to walk in the way God intended. Their message was just like the Baptist's: sweat and joy; preparation now, celebration later.
2. Nowadays we have lost the biblical truth of the Baptist's message. Many of us believe that preparation for the Kingdom, getting ready for heaven means simply wanting to go there--all we have to do to receive Paradise is simply want it.
3. Well, that was not the message of the Baptist. Make no mistake, he said, the Kingdom was coming but only for those who were ready.
II. The Wisdom of Luke
A. Notice how this gospel opens. In the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, when Herod was Tetrarch of Galilee...Luke sets this gospel message in the context of world history. When the prophet Baruch was writing his prophecy, he could have started it, "In the year Darius was King of Persia, I heard this prophecy from the Lord." My point is, our faith is sunk smack dab in the middle of history and does not apologize for it. It would be legitimate to start this gospel out today, "In the second year of the second decade of the new Millennium, in the second month of the reign of Barak Obama, when the country was in chaos and the economy was teetering on the brink of possible recession, John the Baptist once again spoke his prophecy to the people, "Prepare the Way of the Lord!"
B. Why is this important? Because sometimes we think our faith was made for another time, another place. Believe me, John the Baptist's cry and Baruch's prophecy would have sounded idiotic to the Romans or the Persians. Just like our faith sounds very strange and wierd to many people of our day. Instead of apologizing for our faith, or trying to explain it as blandly as possible to fit into our secular culture, why don't we just do what the listeners of Baruch's prophecy or John the Baptist's challenge did? Either accept it or reject it.
C. I'm tired of lukewarm Christianity, and fed up with the constant criticism from within of our own faith. Yes, it's difficult to be Christian, yes it's hard to be Catholic, but being faithful to the Baptist's cry of Prepare the Way of the Lord takes a lot of discipline and a lot of sacrifice. We just are not going to get to heaven easily. Salvation is not going to be handed to us on a silver platter. Nor is the world ever going to accept the reasonableness of our faith.
1. There are always going to be enemies of our faith.
2. There are always going to be temptations that offer us pleasure now--easy sex, easy drugs, easy money. We forget that times were no different back when John the Baptist lived. And because we fall sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking that because we fall, fail, or sin, the standards must be changed, not ourselves. John the Baptist serves as a reminder that we are called to live up to an ideal, not drag values or morality down to the lowest, basest human feeling or emotion.
D. We are called not to run away from the world, but with quiet confidence to live our faith in the midst of it. To prepare while we work, to prepare while we meet and socialize with people who do not believe as we believe. It seems to me that most of the preaching of the gospel we do is by our daily example. And it's here that Advent really challenges us:
1. The Gospel tells us that our faith must be lived now, in a secular world that does not know the truth. Do we really live in Christian way?
2. The Gospel tells us that one of the major ways of preparation is repentance, repentance for the times when we have forgotten that to be a follower of Christ means to be different, to stand as an example to the world. Do we have the courage to repent? If we do not have time to repent, we do not have time for Christ. Again, I urge each of us to look at the Sacrament of Penance. When John the Baptist said, Repent and prepare the way of the Lord, people flocked to the Jordan river to be forgiven. Our Sacrament of Penance can do the same thing. Put your money where your mouth is. If you say you are for Christ, be for Jesus. If you say you are really sorry for your sins, prove it and come to the Sacrament of Penance, if you say you welcome the Christ Child this Christmas, show it by your works of charity and love not just for strangers but for the whole family and neighborhood you live in.
E. Clearly, the message today is: no heaven for the complacent, no paradise for the lazy, no kingdom for the smug, self-righteous person who thinks God owes him or her. God is coming to those who with humble hearts say--Lord, you love me, this I know; I'm sorry for the times I have forgotten your claim on me; forgive, and help me walk in your way, so that I can prepare for your coming into my life this Christmas.