Monday, January 28, 2013

St. Thomas Aquinas

A little bit o' wisdom from our saint-of-the-day:

"Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine."
St. Thomas Aquinas

Maybe not his most scholarly proverb...
...but I'm willing to give it a try!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


   Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln 
issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
It declared that, on January 1, 1863,
“all persons held as slaves…
shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
But as we mark this historic anniversary, 
we must also remember:
things didn’t change instantly for every slave.
The nation was still in the midst of its Civil War.
Most black men, women, and children 
living in the Confederacy
had no idea there’d been any such proclamation;
they’d remain in chains for some time to come.
President Lincoln’s words were powerful, 
and they held great promise,
but they awaited fulfillment.
Some would say his words 
remain unfulfilled even today.

Our Scripture readings this Sunday
have a lot to say about the power of words.

In the gospel,
we find Jesus himself reading from the scroll of Isaiah:
words announcing good news for the poor and liberty for captives,
sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed.
They were words that had brought hope to generations of Jews,
enduring one hardship after another;
they were words aching to be realized.
Jesus follows that reading with what is likely
the shortest—and most compelling—homily in all of Christian history:
“Today this Scripture passage in fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Sorry—I won’t be quite that short this Sunday!)

It may only be one line, but is says it all!
Jesus is making the bold and history-altering claim
that he is God’s eternal Word in Person:
not handed on from a storyteller’s memory;
not carved in stone or written on a page;
but spelled out for us in human flesh and blood.
As the Lord’s anointed, Christ hasn’t come
merely to talk of freedom or to fight for freedom;
he is Freedom itself.
Here’s an emancipation proclamation
which actually has the power to accomplish all that it promises!

In these six weeks following
the brutal shootings in Newtown, Connecticut,
we have heard many stirring words from our President.
I have been particularly struck 
by words he spoke at a prayer vigil
only two days after all those young lives were needlessly lost.
President Obama said:
This is our first task—caring for our children…
If we don't get that right, 
we don't get anything right. 
That's how, as a society, we will be judged. 
And by that measure,
can we truly say, as a nation,
that we are meeting our obligations? 
(December 16, 2012)

Those are strong words!  And true words!
But they’re words which, nonetheless, ring hollow for me
as last Tuesday the United States 
marked 40 years of legal abortion
in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
They’re words robbed of their force
because they’re not backed up by the whole truth,
and not followed up by comprehensive, meaningful action.

Nearly 20 years ago, Mother Teresa of Calcutta
was invited to address political and religious leaders
at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C..
Her courageous words that day caught many by surprise.
She said:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today 
is abortion,
because it is a war against the child,
a direct killing of the innocent child…
And if we accept that a mother 
can kill even her own child,
how can we tell other people 
not to kill one another?…
Any country that accepts abortion
is not teaching its people to love,
but to use any violence to get what they want.
This is why the greatest destroyer 
of love and peace is abortion.
Many people are very, very concerned
with the children of India, 
with the children of Africa
where quite a few die of hunger, and so on.
Many people are also concerned 
about all the violence
in this great country of the United States.
These concerns are very good.
But often these same people are not concerned
with the millions who are being killed
by the deliberate decision of their own mothers.
And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today—
abortion which brings people to such blindness.  (February 5, 1994)

Indeed, how we care for our children—
all of our children, who are the least of our brothers and sisters—
is the measure by which we shall be judged.
For we are all bound together by one web of life
as members of the human family.
And as Christians, united by the Spirit we have received in Baptism,
we are more: we are members of one Body in Christ.
What happens to one—even the child hidden and silent in the womb—
impacts all the rest.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once insightfully observed:
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
I can never be what I ought to be
until you are what you ought to be.
And you can never be what you ought to be
until I am what I ought to be…
And by believing this, by living out this fact,
we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.  (1965)
Your freedom and my freedom are tied up together!
And so it falls to you and me
to stand up and speak up as witnesses
to the Good News proclaimed by Jesus Christ,
that his words of power, his words of liberation,
might accomplish their goal:
touching and transforming the lives
of Jew and Greek, slave and free—born and yet to be born.

Again—I can’t help but hear words of President Obama
in response to the Newtown shootings
in a wider pro-life context.  
He has asked:
Are we really prepared to say
that we're powerless in the face of such carnage,
that the politics are too hard?
Are we prepared to say that such violence
visited on our children year after year after year
is somehow the price of our freedom?  (December 16, 2012)
Faced with nearly 55 million children aborted since Roe v. Wade,
it would appear that more and more Americans
are now answering, “No!”
At Friday’s annual March for Life,
hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C.—
many of them people of faith, and (as the media is beginning to notice)
the majority of them young people,
including seven teenagers from right here in our parishes.
Why so many youth protesting a decision made back in 1973?
Because those of us who are 40 and under
can’t help but take this issue very personally.
We could have been legally aborted;
we could have been just another “choice.”
Must one more generation grow up in this shadow of death?

As Catholics, we are not—strictly speaking—a people of “the word.”
Indeed, we show great reverence for the Bible.
But our faith is drawn not only from the sacred Scriptures,
but from the living Tradition of the Church
which first collected and now interprets them.
And our worship is centered not on the preaching of a sermon,
but on the celebration of a Sacrament,
which makes Christ really and truly present among us.
We’re about promises fulfilled!
We’re about truth embodied—truth taking flesh!
We’re about words in action!
As it is within the four walls of our churches,
so ought it be for us Catholics out in the public square.
It is for this that Christ lived and died and rose again:
that we—all of us—might be today, henceforth, and forever free.

Friday, January 25, 2013

On the March

United with those marching for life in Washington today...including 2 priests, 1 other adult, and 7 teens from right here in Malone...


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For Life

On this sad 40th anniversary,
on this day of prayer and penance,
we pray:

Almighty God, our Father,
you who have given us life 
and intended us to have it forever,
grant us your blessings.
Enlighten our minds 
to an awareness and to a renewed conviction
that all human life is sacred
because it is created 
in your image and likeness. 
Help us to teach by word 
and the example of our lives
that life occupies the first place,
that human life is precious 
because it is the gift of God
whose love is infinite. 
Give us the strength to defend human life
against every influence or action 
that threatens or weakens it,
as well as the strength to make every life 
more human in all its aspects. 

Give us the grace...

...when the sacredness of life before birth is attacked:
to stand up and proclaim that no one ever has the authority to destroy unborn life;

...when a child is described as a burden
or is looked upon only as a means to satisfy an emotional need:
to stand up and insist that every child is a unique and unrepeatable gift of God,
a gift of God with a right to a loving and united family;

...when the institution of marriage is abandoned to human selfishness
or reduced to a temporary conditional arrangement that can easily be terminated:
to stand up and affirm the indissolubility of the marriage bond;

...when the value of the family is threatened because of social and economic pressure:
to stand up and reaffirm that the family is necessary not only for the private good of every person,
but also for the common good of every society, nation and state;

...when freedom is used to dominate the weak,
to squander natural resources and energy, to deny basic necessities to people:
to stand up and affirm the demands of justice and social love.

Almighty Father,
give us courage to proclaim the supreme dignity of all human life 
and to demand that society itself give its protection. 
We ask this in your name,
through the redemptive act of your Son 
and in the Holy Spirit.

adapted from a homily 
of Blessed Pope John Paul II
October 7, 1979

Sunday, January 20, 2013


   Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

It startles many people who read through the Scriptures
just how many racy parts there are.
(I sense a lot of dusty Bibles being taken off their shelves very soon…)
Now, I’m not talking about long lists of rules on the subject;
I’m talking about lots of stories of love and romance,
including the greatest love story of them all:
God’s passionate love affair with his people.
As we read again and again in the prophets,
so we hear in our first reading this Sunday:
As a young man marries a virgin,
            your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
            so shall your God rejoice in you.
Those are strong words!
God’s love for the human race is that deep!
And God desires a relationship with us that’s that intimate!

When we’re aware 
of this matrimonial background,
we shouldn’t be at all surprised
that Jesus’ first public miracle 
takes place at a wedding.
What we have here is more 
than an act of sympathetic charity
for a couple of newlyweds whose party plans
have grown beyond their means—
a story with which many couples today can easily relate.
No—this is clearly a case of “more than meets the eye.”
That’s why John, in writing his gospel,
calls this the first of Jesus’ signs
and not the first of his miracles:
it points to something else, to something more.
(That’s also why the Church 
has such strong opinions about marriage: 
by God’s design, every wedding 
is meant to point well beyond itself—
to point all the way to heaven.)

All those huge, stone jars which just happen to be there in Cana:
what are they intended for?
For Jewish ceremonial washing.
These big, old vessels already had a purpose
before Jesus asked that they be filled—
and that purpose was a thoroughly religious one.

So could it be more than mere coincidence
that this is the water Jesus turns into wine?

Jesus, of course, has nothing against ritual purification.
Just last Sunday,
we heard of how he submitted himself to John’s baptism.
But Jesus’ repeated concern
is with cleansing the inside of a person, and not just the surface.
And maybe that’s why this is the water he’s chosen to change.
Jesus has come to establish a new way of relating with God—
to establish a new covenant.
As the surrounding wedding reception makes clear,
it has exactly the same goal as the old one:
God passionately loves his people,
and God wants a personal, intimate relationship with them.
But in order to accomplish this,
some things need to change—and not only in outward appearance.
Like water into wine,
Jesus has come to transform religion from within.

I heard an interview the other day
with several Americans in their 20’s and 30’s
on the topic of religion and its practice.
The general feeling among them
was that they’re interested in God and faith and prayer,
but not committed to any specific path—
“spiritual, but not religious,” as the saying goes.
Many, in fact, admitted to shopping around
for a religion that seems to fit:
one which best agrees with what they already
think and feel and believe.

You know what struck me right away?
They’ve got it entirely backwards!

British author T. S. Eliot captured this conundrum well
in a poem he wrote back in the 1930’s:
Why should men love the Church?  
     Why should they love her laws?
She tells them of Life and Death, 
     and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, 
     and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, 
     and other unpleasant facts.
from Choruses from "The Rock" (1934)

Generally, when people make
loud, public complaints about the Church—
about her disciplines and her teachings—
it’s usually because they want the Catholic religion to change.
It’s perfectly true:
the Church as an institution is in constant need of renewal and reform.
She should always be seeking ways to be better and to do better.
But at her heart, the Church simply cannot change.
The Church, as Christ’s faithful Bride and as Christ’s living Body,
is Christ’s enduring presence here on earth.
The Church was established by Christ
not to be continually transformed by the tastes of the day
(and when she’s tried that she’s gotten into heaps of trouble),
but that we—her members—might continually be transformed 
according to God’s master plan.
If we want to talk about making changes in the Church,
we must remember it’s not
about remaking the Church in our own image;
it’s about the Church helping us to be remade
in the image and likeness of God.

When I counsel couples before marriage,
one thing I always try to mention:
Don’t think you’re going to change him—or her.
Maybe someone should have told that to God before he proposed!
And yet God persists, and God pursues us,
showering his beloved with a wide array of spiritual gifts.
God’s love for his Church is relentless:
he keeps taking her water and making it wine—
wine both abundant and good.

In May of 1962, American writer Flannery O’Connor
gave a talk on a southern college campus.
A student who heard her was too shy to address her in person,
but wrote a series of letters concerning his crisis of faith.
In one of her replies, O’Connor said:
If what the Church teaches is not true,
then the security and sense of purpose it gives you
are of no value and you are right to reject it. 
One of the effects of liberal Protestantism
has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy,
to make truth vaguer and more and more relative,
to banish intellectual distinctions,
to depend on feeling instead of thought,
and gradually to come to believe that God has no power,
that he cannot communicate with us,
cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so,
and that religion is our own sweet invention. 
This seems to be about where you find yourself now.
Of course, I am a Catholic and I believe the opposite of all this. 
I believe what the Church teaches—
that God has given us reason to use
and that it can lead toward 
a knowledge of him, through analogy:
that he has revealed himself to us in history
and continues to do so through the Church,
and that he is present (not just symbolically)
in the Eucharist on our altars. 
To believe all this I don’t take any leap into the absurd. 
I find it reasonable to believe,
even though these beliefs are beyond reason.
from a letter to Alfred Corn (June 16, 1962)

The mother of Jesus said to the servers,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
How often in prayer we try to tell the Lord
just how things ought to be done!
Mary advises us to do just the opposite.
And Mary’s advice goes beyond reason:
to honor and obey the wishes of another
(as some old wedding vows put it)
results not from well-reasoned arguments,
but can only be the result of love:
of being intensely, passionately, even eternally loved—
and then choosing to love in return.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


   The Baptism of the Lord   C  

After attending his baby brother’s Baptism,
little Tommy sobbed all the way home.
“What’s wrong?” his father asked.
“Well,” answered the boy, 
“the priest said he wanted us
to be brought up in a good Christian home…
…but I want to stay with you guys!”

Friday night, while sitting by the Christmas tree one last time,
Fr. Stitt shared a story from his recent vocations work.
He’d been speaking with the mother
of a rather active Catholic family,
whose teenage son would be
a fine candidate for the priesthood.
The young man has even admitted that,
when he hears the readings at Mass,
he often thinks about what he would say
if standing in the pulpit to preach.
So Fr. Stitt asked,
“Have you ever talked to your son
about the possibility of the priesthood?”
The mom said, “Not really.”
She said that she didn’t want to “push.”
“If God wants him to be a priest,
then I just figure he’ll make it happen somehow.”

We believe that God feeds us, right?
The Bible tells us he can do it in rather miraculous ways.
The Lord rained down manna for his people to eat in the desert.
Jesus multiplied loaves and fish for the hungry crowd on the hillside.
But most of the time,
God feeds us through much more ordinary ways:
through the hard work of farmers and gardeners,
of grocers and cooks.

And we all believe that God speaks to us, right?
We even believe that, as occurred at Jesus’ Baptism,
on rare occasions the Lord’s voice has been heard
coming straight from the heavens.
But more often than not,
God speaks in much less remarkable ways:
through the pages of Scripture and the teaching of the Church,
through the words of a sermon or the good counsel of a friend.

God has a rather longstanding habit
of depending upon simple human instruments
to accomplish his greatest works.

John the Baptist 
is an unmistakable example.
“One mightier than I is coming,” John testifies.
“While I baptize with water,
he will baptize with 
the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
There are many wondrous ways
in which God could have revealed 
that this man, Jesus,
is his Only Begotten and much-beloved Son.
Yet God chose to do it 
at the hands of an eccentric preacher
perched on the banks of a lazy river.

Jesus, of course, 
did not need to be baptized
for the forgiveness of his sinsas we do.
But just as he went down 
into the waters of the Jordan,
so the Son of God 
fully immersed himself
in our human conditioneven unto death—
that he might in turn cleanse and renew us.
At his Baptismanother Epiphany—
Jesus’ true identity and vocation
are made clear:
God’s grace has appeared in the flesh,
that we might become heirs 
in hope of eternal life.

At Baptism, whether as a child or an adult,
each and every one of us was given a vocation.
Although it’s not a word coming out of our Catholic tradition, 
to speak of Baptism as a “christening” [a Christ-ening]
points to the sacrament as a life-changing reality:
we are all called by the Father
and anointed by the Holy Spirit
to make Christ present in our own time and place.
Deep down, this is our truest identity!
And this general Christian vocation takes shape
in many particular vocations:
in the vocations of husbands and wives,
who give witness to Christ’s love by their fidelity;
in the vocations of fathers and mothers,
who keep Christ at the center of their families;
in the vocations of single persons,
who reveal Christ’s face in their neighborhoods
and parishes and schools and workplaces;
in the vocations of deacons, priests, and bishops,
who make Christ known in their ministry of Word and Sacrament;
and in the vocations of consecrated religious men and women
who point to Christ dwelling among us
by their vows, their common life,
and the distinct charisms of their communities.

By Baptism, we become members of the one Body of Christ—
a worldwide web that connects the human family in a way
which makes Facebook or Twitter look like child’s play.
Thus every vocation comes with the duty to foster other vocations.
If the only food we ate was that which came to us miraculously,
then we’d be on one heck of a diet.
And if the only divine guidance we expected or accepted
came by direct heavenly intervention—
well, just look around at the world today,
and you can see where that would lead.

During this Year of Faith,
Pope Benedict XVI has challenged us
to draw people back to the Catholic faith
or to lead them there for the first time.
Many of you have shared inspiring stories with me
of how your own efforts to do so have paid off.
If you don’t share your faith with family, friends, and neighbors,
then who will?

The same is true with Church vocations.
I know for myself
that if my parents and grandparents hadn’t been so insistent
on the regular practice of our Catholic faith;
that if my parish priests when growing up
hadn’t taken such personal interest in my future;
that if my Catholic school teachers, catechists,
and even fellow parishioners
hadn’t spoken to me specifically about the priestly vocation
they believed they could see growing within me,
then I wouldn’t be standing here at this pulpit and altar today.

The Lord is calling,
just as he always has.
Are we ready to help others hear his voice?

If God wants those who wander like sheep without a shepherd
to come take their place in his fold;
if God wants our young people
to embrace his plan for them
through vocations of service in the Church—
I firmly believe he can make that happen somehow.

And that “somehow” is you and me.