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Sunday, February 9, 2020

You are the Salt of the Earth, You are the Light of the World. (5th Sunday Ordinary Time)

Homily – 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) 
This homily was adapted from a homily written by Father Albert Lakra 

I believe that most of us are aware that our culture has become somewhat darker in regard to immorality and anti-Christian behavior, but we must not close our eyes to the good that has come from the growing darkness. It is in the darkness that light can shine the brightest, and in today’s readings, Christ has a powerful message for us. He speaks to us and gives us direction on how we are to live our lives, especially in times of darkness. He states: “YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH; YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.”

Let me share with you a short story that might help us understand what Christ was trying to teach us. An ancient king once asked his three daughters how much they loved him. The eldest daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world. The middle daughter said she loved him more than all the silver in the world. And the youngest daughter said she loved him more than salt. The king was not pleased with the final answer. However, the wise cook overheard the conversation, and the next day he prepared a wonderful meal for the king but left out the salt. The food was so insipid, so tasteless, that the king couldn’t eat it. It was then that the King understood what his youngest daughter meant. He now understood the value of salt. 

Salt is a basic and essential item in our diet and the greatest and the most obvious quality of salt is that it lends flavor to food. Food without salt is sadly insipid, bland, and can even be a sickening thing. Salt is so important that one can’t even imagine living without it. In times of past, Salt was connected with purity, for it came from purest of all things visible, the sun and the sea. Salt was also the commonest of all preservatives. It was used to keep things from going bad and preserved things from getting corrupted. Salt was considered so important, that even the Jews added salt to their offerings to God. So, when Christ said to his followers – “You are the salt of the earth,” it simply meant that a follower of Christ must lend flavor to life, bringing joy & gladness, happiness & peace, justice & love, care & concern, hope & consolation, among those in their lives. 

A follower of Christ, a Christian, also has to be an example of purity, in speech, in conduct, and even in thought, living a life of honesty, diligence & conscientiousness. The Christian also has to preserve the good and prevent the evil in the society, and save it from deteriorating. By our very presence, we are to defeat corruption of all kinds. So When Christ used this image of salt, He was trying to teach us how a disciple of His should act and live in the world. But He also warned us by describing that just as insipid salt, salt that has lost its taste, its strength, is of no use in flavoring or preserving food, so too, the so-called 'disciples' are of no use if they choose to fail, especially by a lack of effort, or in a life content with being Luke-Warm in the faith. The corruption of the best is the worst. Those called to be the greatest, Christians, constitute the worst tragedy if they choose to fail, especially after being shown the way, the truth, and the life. 

Christ goes on to say to His disciples: “You are the light of the world.” He speaks of our visibility in the world. Let me share with you another short story that may help us better understand Christ’s words. The story is told of a little girl who was shivering her way along a main street in one of our great cities. Seeing the beautiful lights of a church building and hearing the music coming from within, she went in and warmed herself as she listened. In the Priest’s homily, he focused on and stated, "I am the light of the world." At the close of the Mass, the little girl went to the Priest and said, "Did you say you are the light of the world, sir?" The Priest replied, "No, dear child. Christ is the light of the world; I am only one of the smaller lights." The little girl looked at him for a moment, paused, and then solemnly said, "Well, sir, I wish you would come down and hang out in our alley, 'cause it's awful dark down there!" Christians are indeed, as Christ said, "The light of the world." And as one of those lights, let us ask ourselves: Do we ever purposely go to any dark places, to shine our light? Or do only “Hang out” with other lights? Or do we hide our Light? 

It is important for us to remember that a light, especially a light of Christ is something which is meant to be seen and not hidden. And in reality, there really is no such thing as a secret Christian disciple, because the secrecy will ultimately betray the discipleship or the discipleship will ultimately destroy the secrecy. Thus a disciple of Christ must be visible in the world, and our light is meant to be a guide by shedding its rays and showing the way, especially in the darkness. Our light also often sends a warning, a warning when there is a danger lying ahead. We are to be an example to others and to positively influence them; while at the same time lovingly giving them warnings of the dangers of the evil in the world. 

This idea of being visible to the world was so important to Christ that He used two more images to emphasize it. He spoke of a 'city set on a mountain,' and how it sticks out like a sore thumb, and that there is no way to hide it. And he spoke of a 'lamp on a lamp-stand.' And declared, “What is the point in lighting a lamp then covering it up? Clarifying that we are either a light to others, or we block the light. 

We must remember one powerful thing; to truly follow Christ is always radical. And we must honestly decide! Do I want follow Christ, or do I want to follow the world? The two are in direct contrast, and we can’t do both. If we try, we will do neither well, and we will become insignificant. Let us not become insignificant. Let us become true followers of Christ. In doing so, we don’t need any special talents or abilities, just as St. Paul says in the Second Reading, proclaiming to know nothing but “Jesus Christ, and Christ crucified.” Simply, we are to be, “The Salt of the earth,” and “The Light of the world,” and that through our lives – in action & speech, with our work & words, through our behavior, while fully trusting not in human wisdom, but in the power of God, that we can truly be that reflection of Christ’s light, that light that clearly shines, that light that shines especially bright today in our world’s darkness.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Presentation of our Lord

Homily for the Presentation of the Lord
Today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a feast that reflects the one light of Christ from different angles and in different ways. Historically the feast has been known by different names, each stressing a different aspect of the same mystery: the mystery that God has chosen to dwell among us.

Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to present him at the Temple. This was the first time Jesus entered the temple that years later he would cleanse of merchants with great zeal. The same temple where he would teach his disciples and challenge the Pharisees. The same temple where Judas would receive thirty silver coins in return for his betrayal.

As you heard in the Gospel, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus with grateful hearts and offered the sacrifice prescribed by the Law of Moses for the poor: two young pigeons. God fulfills the prophecy of Malachi when Simeon identifies the child as the awaited Messiah.  

Simeon’s words at first are joyful and triumphant, the child is a light for revelation, the glory of Israel, but then he turns to the Blessed Mother and his tone becomes somber speaking of suffering and sacrifice: this child will be a contradiction and a sword will pierce your heart.

This feast invites us to celebrate with Simeon that all prophecy has been fulfilled, while at the same time, it invites us to remember that Jesus was born to die as a sacrifice for our sins. (Pause)

For centuries this feast was also known as the Purification of the Virgin Mary, an event we also commemorate today. 

When a Jewish person had direct contact with blood, the person became unclean and he or she had to undergo religious rites to be purified. An example of this would be the Parable of the Good Samaritan where the priests did not help the dying man for fear of touching blood and becoming impure. And of course when women give birth, obviously they have contact with blood.  

The Book of Leviticus prescribed that forty days after giving birth a woman had to be ritually cleansed.  

Today, forty days after Christmas Day, we commemorate that the Blessed Mother faithfully followed the Law of Moses and was purified.  

She who was conceived pure, without the stain of sin, obediently offered the call for the sacrifice of two pigeons.

This feast invites us to ponder how the Blessed Mother faithfully followed the Law of Moses and went to the Temple with her son to be purified even though she did not need purification. An act of respect, obedience, and humility. (pause)

As if this feast didn’t have enough layers, there is one more.  
Today’s feast has also been called Candlemass throughout the centuries, a celebration of light (or candles).  

Traditionally candles are blessed on this day, followed by a procession in a darkened church, reminding us of Simeon’s words, that the child born on Christmas day is the “light of the nations.”

This feast invites us to recognize Jesus as the light that has come into the darkness to destroy sin and death. (Pause)

As you have heard, today, the one light of Christ is reflected from different angles and in different ways.  

The light that shines forth from the mystery that God has chosen to dwell among us cannot be contained.  

All is renewed, all is transformed, all things are different because God has become man.

The joy of knowing the Messiah, the sorrow of recognizing that he will be sacrificed, the blessedness of his mother and his perpetual light that dispels the darkness; all converge on this feast forty days after his birth.

The Church never ceases to proclaim the mystery that God has become man. The Church never ceases to proclaim that our God who created all things has emptied himself to become like one of his creatures.

As a candle offers itself as a sacrifice to give us pure light, ceasing to exist as its wax melts away, slowly and selflessly dying as it shines for others to have light, so too Our Savior is a light that offers itself in sacrifice so that others may have life.

Candles always accompany the altar of sacrifice, burning themselves to death as a sacrifice, reminding us of the One who died so that we could have life.

Now understanding the Gospel message a little more intimately, may we humbly and sincerely pray that the Lord help us to be candles of his light, dying to ourselves, our pride, our self-centeredness, and our greed, so that the light of Christ may shine ever so brightly within us and onto the world. Amen

Friday, December 27, 2019

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Catholic Joy (3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A)

Deacon Pat Kearns 
3rd Sunday of Advent 
Is 35:1-6a, 10, Mt 11:2-11 

Catholic Joy 

 Today we light the 3rd Advent Candle. In many traditional Advent wreaths, there are three purple candles and one rose-colored candle. The rose-colored candle is reserved for the third Sunday of Advent. It is different from all the others. This particular candle symbolizes “Rejoicing”. Let’s explore in a little deeper way, the meaning of this 3rd Sunday of Advent and listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah, allowing the words to settle upon our hearts.

• Strengthen the hands that are feeble.
• Make firm the knees that are weak.
• Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!
• Here is your God; He comes with Vindication, with Divine recompense.

In other words, God comes to “make-up” for what is lacking in our lives. And finally: He comes to save us!

Advent is a time of expecting and waiting. For some, it is simply a time of shopping and preparing for the exchange of gifts at Christmas. But for Catholics, it is a time with a much deeper meaning. Advent is a time to take a closer look at our lives, especially in regard to our preparedness for Christ’s coming. As Christmas approaches, we acknowledge the beauty and gravity of that gift of our Lord who humbled himself to take on our humanity. That gift, indeed, is beyond our complete understanding and will remain a mystery to so many of us. We also acknowledge that He will come again and that when He returns, that will be the end, the end to life as we know it. However, we must also realize, that HE is also here now, this year, this week, this day, and at this very moment. And why is He here? He is here to save us! So my question to all of you is, what do we need saving from?

• How are our hands feeble?
• How are our knees weak?
• What are our fears?
• What wrong do we need Him to set right?
• How are we blind?
• What is it that we cannot hear?
• In what ways are we lame?
Advent is a time to think about those questions.

Another important question to all of us comes from the depths of a prison, the prison where John the Baptist suffered in Herod’s palace. The same place where John sent his followers to ask the Lord: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Bishop Fulton Sheen said that John was discouraged and perhaps even close to despair when he acted in such a way. John had spent his whole life waiting for the coming of the Christ, and now that he had come, or so he thought, he still suffers in a prison. Can’t you imagine why he might have thought?

• Is this really the Christ?
• Is this really the one that I am being called to die for?

And how does Jesus respond to John? Jesus states: “Look at all the wonderful things that are happening to the people around here.

• The Blind are seeing,
 • The deaf are hearing,
 • The dumb are speaking,
 • and the lame are leaping.”

And then Jesus states: “The poor have the good news preached to them.” What does this mean? Who are the poor that He speaks of? We are the poor. “It is us!”

When we truly acknowledge our faults, our inequities, our short comings, and realize just how poor we actually are; and when we reach out for Him, the one who has been faithfully waiting for us to respond, then and only then, our world begins to change. A transformation begins. Something so very special is set into motion. He hears our thoughts, our prayers, and then He begins to shine His light onto us during our hours of desperation. He begins to fill us with wisdom and peace in places where there had only been confusion. He begins to show us the tiniest ways to begin to unravel the knots that we have wrapped around us through repeated bad choices and sinfulness. But we have to reach out for him, we must look in His direction for our answers. Yes, this seems so very simple, but not unlike John, we might also experience doubt at times. We might question our faith, especially when we are frightened, hurt, and worn down by trial after trial. Honestly: haven’t we all questioned, either in our thoughts or at least in our actions:

• Are you the one?
• Should we be looking somewhere else?

And how many of us have, and are still looking somewhere else for the answers? How many of us are seeking peace, joy, and love in all the wrong places? How many of us seek love, but settle for lust? How many of us seek joy, but settle for cheap pleasure? Seek satisfaction, but instead, merely feed our greed? Seek wisdom, but then listen to fools. Seek true beauty, but instead, latch onto what only makes us uglier. Seek intimacy, but settle for less.

Yet, as we reach out for God, choose to look toward him for the answers, we are then touched by a ray of light, a grace, a sense of warmth, an idea, an understanding, a promise of hope and wonder that is Christ, the Christ that is the One! We begin to yearn and hunger for what is pure and true. We begin to make changes in our lives; we throw away the lies and deceptions as we come clean with the Sacrament of confession. We suddenly discover within ourselves the ability to make choices that are different than what we had been accustomed to in that lost cycle of habit. Our behaviors begin to change, we begin to meet new friends, we begin to grow closer to God, to the Church, and then, all of a sudden we find a deeper meaning and understanding in the liturgy, the Mass. We begin to see our participation with heaven and the spiritual world. We progressively transform into the person that we were created to be by God. We experience love, joy, and peace. We see beauty where we had never noticed it before. We find ourselves drawn to the scriptures, because maybe for the first time, they now become alive and directly speak to us. As we receive Holy Communion, the Eucharist now joyfully burns within us as we truly realize who that it is we have just consumed. We begin to taste in our lives the fruits of the Spirit that Saint Paul spoke of: Love, Joy, Peace, and Patience. We become kind and generous. And all of this begins as we have chosen to turn to God, to Christ for the answers.

This is the Joy that is behind the Rose-colored candle. The joy of the third Sunday of Advent. It is the message of hope and salvation. It is the understanding that, YES, we are the poor. And that we have heard the good news preached to us. We have found THE ONE we are looking for.

As we begin to embrace our faith, our beautiful Catholic faith, and we realize the treasures of the Sacraments; we can then begin to joyfully understand the eternal rewards of being a Christian, and… Just how truly rich…we are!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Faith, Hope, Love, and Death

Homily – Year C – 32nd Sunday – Deacon Pat Kearns

Listening to today’s readings and Gospel message you probably heard a variety of issues:

  • torture, 
  • perverse and wicked people, 
  • and even a wife married to seven brothers, 
but if listened to carefully, you probably picked up on a common theme. The theme deals with the issue of death.

How often in our lives to do we talk about our death, or the end of our life with those around us, especially those close to us like our spouses, family, and friends? It is much easier to talk about the death of others than it is to talk about our own death. Yet, this is so very important, and the message today will give us much to think about.

As Catholics, we are to be living our lives in preparation for death. A life well-lived, especially in regard to a life well-lived in the faith, brings about a comfortable death and ease of transition from this life to the next. But why is it that so many people fear death? Fear of death comes from a lack of faith and hope. Faith is the foundation of our spiritual life that we are to have as Catholics, and it is with this faith that brings us hope. It is that hope that brings us courage in the light of difficulty, even when that difficulty includes the possibility of death. That hope is the understanding that there will be life after death, a life of such love, peace, and tranquility like we have never seen or experienced before.

So how does this all come about? Like many things in life, it begins in the family. The Father brings faith and truth into the home. Not exclusively, but that is his role and task. The wife embraces that faith and truth, internalizes it, and turns it into love and charity. It is the wife who is the heart and love of the home. And when the father who is faith, mixes with the wife who is love, working together, springs forth hope. With faith and hope, we are able to combat fear. The fear of death is only present when we are lacking faith and hope in our lives. Especially because it is faith and hope that specifically brings forth courage.

Looking at our first reading of today, it speaks of a mother and her seven sons who obviously had strong faith, a faith that had been nourished, and a faith that had been well-lived, as evident by their amazing hope. Some of their reactions to the threat of being put to death were:

  •  “The King of the world will raise us up to live again.”
  •  “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up.”
  • “We are ready to die rather than turn away from God.”
Their faith created their hope and even in the midst of being put to death, they remained courageous. Hope is so strong that not even death can break it.

The second reading speaks of this hope. Saint Paul shares that the Lord Jesus, and God our Father, who has loved us has also given us everlasting encouragement and good HOPE through His grace, encourages our hearts and strengthens us in every good deed and word. We are to be cognizant of this and realizing that embracing the virtuous Catholic life also brings with it the grace of a happy death. Don’t we all want the grace of a happy death?

At this point, you might be asking how is it that we can embrace our Catholic lives, our Catholic faith, be living our lives well, and how to be prepared for when difficult times come, especially times that might involve death. First of all, we are to do the basics of what it means to be Catholic.

  • We are to speak and listen to God daily in prayer.
  • We are to attend weekly Mass and holy days of obligation.
  • We should cleanse our souls quickly every time they become stained with mortal sin through the Sacrament of confession.
  • We are to be charitable with our time, talents, and treasure.
  • We are to learn our faith and especially what the Church teaches about death, so that we are well prepared to make the right decisions for ourselves and for our loved ones.
As many of you know, I have worked in health care, in hospitals, and with patients and families for over 35 years. I have seen many peaceful, holy, and inspiring deaths, with supportive family and friends, circled around the person in prayer and in love. I have seen lonely deaths. I have also witnessed some very troublesome and chaotic deaths with families being torn apart by the need to make certain care decisions, often in haste, and without any knowledge from a prior discussion with the person who the decision will affect the most. Often, the family has no idea what the person would want or not want done.

This brings us back to my initial question; How often in our lives to do we talk about our death, or the end of our life with those around us, especially those close to us like our spouses, family, and friends? If we are desiring to have a peaceful and comfortable death, we need to live our lives well, and to make sure we share our thoughts and ideas about death with those the closest to us. Because the time may come when we are not able to communicate our desires and we will be relying on others to make those decisions for us. The decisions often include such things as being placed on a ventilator, having feeding tubes placed or not placed, performing or not performing CPR, just to mention a few. Can you imagine the stress placed on an individual who must make these decisions for someone else when they truly do not know what the person would have desired?

There are many mechanisms available for a person to document their specific desires so that they can be honored at such a critical time, like Advance Directives, Living Wills, and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care. These documents are easily available and can be obtained often for free on the internet, from physician’s offices, and even at many parishes, but they do not take the place of sitting down with one’s family and having a discussion about how exactly one feels about death and the processes surrounding it.

In conclusion, there are many practical things that can be done, and should be done, well in advance, as previously mentioned, to clearly give guidance to family, friends, and care providers, describing what your wishes are regarding what to do and not to do if a time comes where you cannot speak for yourself. This will ensure your wishes are honored and will prevent any unnecessary stress or guilt on others. We should also ensure that we clearly understand the teachings of our faith on end of life issues by speaking to an informed priest, deacon, or others knowledgeable in the faith. One can also reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church for sound advice.

Additionally, we should be focused on living a life “well-lived in the faith.”

And always remembering that:

  • Our Faith truly understood and truly lived brings us hope.
  • Faith mixed with love springs forth hope.
  •  Hope is what fuels our lives as Christians.
  • It is what prepares us for those difficult times in life, even times that might include death.
  • It is what gives us courage and allows us to overcome fear.
Catholic hope is so powerful, so truly powerful, nothing can break it, not even death. Amen