Saturday, April 18, 2020

Like Singing an "Alleluia" at a Funeral Mass (Easter Homily 2020)



Happy Easter!  Well, sort of.  

Holy Week and Easter 2020 will definitely be in the history books.  It's a time like no other, at least so far.  To all of my parishioners:  I miss seeing you, more than you could ever imagine!  All the daily communicants, the confessions after daily Mass . . . I miss them all.  To those viewing on live stream: Welcome!  From the curiosity seekers to those who deeply hunger spiritually for what has been taken away . . .   

Since these are such unusual times, it calls for a different homily message this Easter.  

I think God is indeed trying to get our attention.  Realize God sees all things, He knows all things, and is ultimately in control of all things.  In His permissive will, He has allowed this to happen, all of it.  Much of the world as we know it has come to a screeching halt.  Stop everything!  Alter your routines!  The children are all now schooled at home.  The family, the domestic church, is once again united and not running off to baseball practice or to dance lessons or to the latest social activity.  We are "quarantined."  

Now that we have a "quarantined" Easter Sunday, we have no public Masses, no communion for all. We can watch Mass on TV or from some live stream such as this one.  What does it remind me of?  Something is a bit out of sync; something's just not right.  When I was thinking about it, to me, it seemed like an Alleluia being sung at the funeral Mass.   

At the funeral Mass, the entire congregation mourns and feels the separation and the loss of their loved one.  Remember even Jesus, the Son of God, wept at the death of His friend Lazarus.  Meanwhile, we are singing, or at least listening to, a joyful Alleluia contrary to the emotions that we may be experiencing at the time.  The "Alleluia," Father, reminds us of resurrection and of joy!  But that's not necessarily what I may be feeling right now!  I may be feeling pain, loss, suffering, sadness, separation, etc., etc.   However, the Alleluia is still being sung.  

I realize we are all in different places in our spiritual journey, either heading towards or sadly moving away from God.  I have to ask you all for some introspection: Where am I on that spiritual journey?  Where am I on that spectrum?  

Someone may be caught up in sin right now. Addiction. Hardness of heart. I don't really care! I'm totally oblivious to my surroundings. I am my world and my world is me!  Sin has a hold on me and I'm not letting go, not letting go!  That may be one end of the spectrum, perhaps.  

Then, moving along you'll hit the mere spectator, or the observer:  watching what's going on . . . looking from a distance . . . not getting involved.  Just watching; taking the safe course.  

Let's move down the spectrum a little bit.  Someone may indeed realize that something's just not right.  There is craziness in the world right now.  But he or she doesn't know what to do, doesn't know where to turn to next.  

Let's take it all the way to the end of our spectrum.  To those people who are serious about life, and their faith, and eternal life.  And they realize now: What am I missing?  There's an absolute void in my life!  I have no sacraments!  I have no Eucharist, no penance, no sacraments on a regular basis!  I had somebody come up to me like that in the past week and say, "Father, I've been a daily communicant for 30 years, now I can't go to Communion."  Thirty years of wanting the Lord every day.  Imagine the pain, the absence, the void that's present in that person.  

We are all in different spiritual places, I'm sure.  Those who are part of the parish, those who are watching live stream, I ask collectively:  where are we on that spectrum?  We are looking for answers. We're looking for hope.  And I say this:  Hope comes from one particular place. Rather, one particular person.  Hope comes in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh for us!

God who descended to our humanity, who lived everyday like we live, but without sin, was here on this earth for us.  Here on this earth to do what?  To have a good time?  No!  In the end, His purpose was to die.  His purpose was to take our sins upon himself, and to die for us, most unjustly!  He was to die for you and for me, on that cross.  

I'm sure His disciples were devastated.  Think about what happened to them.  Peter denied him.  "I don't even know the man."  The rest of the disciples fled.  Judas hanged himself in despair.  Look what happened to them.  They were His closest companions.  Imagine how they were devastated when He died on the cross.  

Then we have all of us, the rest of us here in this world.  How do we react to what happened to Christ?  Do we see what He did for us?  Do we understand?  Do we take it seriously enough?  Do we know this was done on my behalf?  This beautiful mural of the crucifixion (behind me) looks down on us in the middle of our Sanctuary.  I am reminded every day when I look at it:  this is what was done for you and for me!  

And now, today, we celebrate while pondering the empty tomb.  Jesus IS Risen!  He Is Not There!   He IS Risen!  

Again, we can have various reactions today.  People may say:  "I doubt it!"  "I don't believe it!"  "It’s a lie!"  NO--it's the Truth!  Because He is the Truth!  He rose from the dead.  He conquered sin.  He conquered death.  He Lives!  He has done all of that.  He has done His part!  

But, us, we're not there yet.  That's how we're somehow out of sync.  We haven't gone there.  We're not enjoying eternal life.   We're not in Heaven.   We're what they used to call, (or still should call) the "church militant."  We're fighting battles, spiritual battles in this world.  We have to realize God wants us for Himself, God calls us to Himself.  That's the important thing that we all have to remember, while recalling that Jesus won the victory.  He conquered sin and death.  He wants us to join with Him.  We cannot do it ourselves.  We need to join Him.  

So, wherever we are on that spiritual spectrum we need to be with Christ.  We need to get there.  First, we need to put Him in the center of our lives.  NOTHING ELSE MATTERS if we lose eternal life!  We have to speak that boldly and make people understand! If you've lost eternal life, you've lost everything!  There is nothing else.  

We have to take our spiritual lives seriously.  We have to realize individually and collectively:  I need Christ to conquer sin and conquer death in my life.  I need Christ.  We all need Christ.  He rose from the dead!   Yes, but we haven't risen from the dead.  We're not in eternal glory.  We need to get there.  We need to be there with Him.  He provides us with the invitation.  He calls us time and time again.  Be My disciple.  It involves picking up the cross.  It involves following him daily.  It involves an intimate prayer life, a life in union with God who is our spiritual sustenance.  God sustains us!  We need Him!  

On this Easter Sunday, yes we can sing Alleluia.  Yes, we should sing Alleluia, because we know Christ won the victory.  But did we?  Did we join with Him?  Are we in eternal life yet?  No!  We're not there yet.  We need Him to get there.  So, wherever we are on the spiritual spectrum, may we turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ!  Look to Him.  The tomb is empty.  He conquered sin. He conquered death.  He continues to invite you and me to share eternal life with Him.  However, it's not on our terms, but on His terms:  Pick up your cross and follow Me daily!  

Happy Easter!

Rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ and realize what He has done for us.  

Alleluia!

Easter Sunday
April 12, 2020

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Divine Adjustment



I think it was inevitable.  A God who loves us beyond what we can ever imagine could only wait for so long before somehow intervening.  It is said, God’s patience is directed toward our salvation (see 2 Pt. 3: 15).  We should never, however, take God for granted or try His patience.
 
The world’s situation has been out of control, in a downward plunge.  Diminished respect for human life.  Rampant promiscuity.  Materialism.  The breakup of the family.  Divorce and remarriage.  Redefining gender and traditional marriage.  Idolatry and paganism.  Contempt for the Catholic Church, Sacred Tradition and natural law.  Spiritual lethargy and indifference began infecting most everyone (except, perhaps, for some very saintly souls or those deemed radical zealots).  Through the years, I have referenced many examples of social decline ad nauseam.  This moral disease rampant throughout the world is both deadly and malignant—like a virus.

From a spiritual perspective, the core problem is defiance of God—directly or indirectly.  The nature of all sin coalesces in disobedience of Almighty God and His plan for our existence.  May I take a second to remind us all that God is the Creator and we are creatures, not the other way around.

In the meantime, things continue to happen in our world, ever-more rapidly.  We are given warnings, signs, disasters and other reminders of the fragility of this world.  There have been earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, floods, pestilence, plagues, wars, etc.  We are warned of such things in Sacred Scripture (see Mt. 24: 6-8.)  Now there is COVID-19.  Add this to the list of all those reminders of our mortality.  Momento mori.

What this virus has done, no one could imagine could be done so quickly.  Many segments of the world’s economy have come to a screeching halt.  No bars, meals at restaurants, non-essential businesses, large or small social gatherings of any kind are currently permitted in many locations worldwide.  Entire countries are in some form of lock-down or quarantine.
 
Let’s not ignore what the virus has also done to one of the greatest false gods in contemporary culture:  organized sports.  Isn’t it interesting how the stadiums and arenas are suddenly empty?  Some of these facilities may now be used as make-shift hospitals.  The professional sports cash-cow is now without its milk.  Paid athletes are not the only ones affected.  Many pastors have tried to preach about not having youth sport games or practices on Sunday morning (the Lord’s Day), but it fell mostly on deaf ears.  Now there are no Sunday (or any other day) practices or games throughout parts of the entire world.  All this happened almost instantly and without much warning.

Take notice how quickly various activities and events we take for granted can rapidly disappear from our lives—temporarily or maybe even completely.

The coronavirus:  Is Almighty God behind it all? 

We may ponder, question, deny, parse, qualify and debate the answer to this thought.  Let me answer clearly and directly:  yes.  If something happens in our world, then God, at a minimum, has allowed it to happen.  God is in charge and always will be.  There are no exceptions.  Whether it be His direct, active, positive will or His permissive will, God ultimately decides what will and what will not be allowed to occur, now and always.

This is not to say that God desires evil things (such as deadly earthquakes, hurricanes, viruses, etc.) or evil persons, for that matter.  Rather, He permits them to exist.  He permits Satan to exist.  God may allow some things to happen as the result of our own sinfulness, folly or inaction.  He allows us, because of free-will, to make bad choices and to sin.  Like a good Father, however, He may then choose to discipline or to justly punish His disobedient child/children.  In the end, God, who is love, wills the best for each of us—not our downfall and destruction.

. . . We have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them.  Should we not [then] submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live?  They disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness.  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.  So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.  Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed. (Heb. 12: 9-13)
Will we learn the proper lesson from any form of the Lord’s discipline to which we may be subjected, now or in the future?  Better to accept any and all discipline we are given now, rather than experience eternal punishment and damnation in the future. 

I believe a Divine Adjustment is taking place in our world.  In some mysterious way, God is acting to bring us back to Himself.  He seems to be getting our attention through a virus.  Whether we all will listen is another story.

What needs to happen in our world?

We began this Lenten season with the reminder that all people need to follow Jesus’ unceasing command:  Repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk. 1:15).  I fear that many will not understand what God is doing on our behalf, now or ever.  In the end, unless we get down on our knees, turn back to God and beg His forgiveness and mercy, we have entirely missed the boat.  We all need conversion.  We need to change our lives now.  I sadly see people strategizing how to get through this current crisis but without even a shred of acknowledgement of the need for Divine Assistance.  Variations of Pelagianism apparently still thrive in society.  We don’t need God to get us through this.  Stay strong together! Sounds like another Tower of Babel situation. 

Let’s do a collective examination of conscience:  Is there increased prayer in families as we are spending time forced together?  Are there any acts of penance and reparation being made? Is there a renunciation of all sinful lifestyles and behavior?  Maybe some activities or occasions of sin are being curtailed under this quarantine.  Yet, in other places and situations sin is still flourishing.  I wonder if the internet porn business has decreased.  Are there more or less cases of domestic violence?  I heard that some abortion facilities want to be considered an essential service and remain open.  Politicians still hold staunchly to ungodly beliefs and positions.  The rebellion against God continues—even with a potentially deadly virus enveloping us rapidly.  Sadly, many things still do not change.

Here’s a thought to ponder:  How can we be certain that this current crisis is not just one of a number of future “plagues” “chastisements” or “punishments” still coming, if we fail to heed this particular warning?  Didn’t it take ten plagues finally to get through to the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh (see Ex. 7-12)?  Various prophesies have spoken of coming “days of darkness,” an “illumination of conscience” for all people as well as other possibilities.  What if we lose power or the internet in the days ahead?  With so many working from home and so dependent on computers and smart phones, what if they all suddenly go down?  Perhaps, a solar flare.  Then what do we do?  Will we pay attention then?
 
One can only imagine the possibilities of what can still happen!  I am no prophet.  I am just a parish priest trying to interpret the signs of the times through a spiritual, biblical lens.  I ask sincerely: Has God gotten our attention yet?  Are we paying attention?

What about any innocent victims who may die?  How can a good God allow this to happen?

These same questions have been brought up in practically every disaster known to mankind, natural or man-made.  Innocent victims unfortunately die in hit-and-run car accidents, in wars, in earthquakes, in famines, in tornadoes and  because of coronaviruses.  God permits it all.  Innocent people often have to suffer. 

Does this then mean God is cruel and heartless?  Maybe God will answer this for us in another way, but I think He already has sufficiently spoken:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life (Jn. 3: 16).  No one was more innocent and sinless than Jesus.  He is the innocent victim, par excellence.  He was scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked, beaten, and crucified for us, for our sin.  This life here on earth is not always fair, even for the Son of God.  Justice may not occur until we are before the throne of Almighty God.  Then and there, I pray, that it will all make more sense to us.

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pt. 2: 22-24)
Why now?  Connecting some dots . . .

Some strange things have been occurring not only in society but in the Catholic Church as well.  To me (and others) it seems like the political/cultural world and the ecclesiastical/spiritual world are fighting parallel battles.  There is a spiritual warfare occurring over souls—human souls and the collective “souls” of nations and cultures.  Sins such as abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, assisted suicide, homosexual acts, (so-called) same-sex “marriages,” pornography and idolatry affect not only individuals but societies and nations as well.

Until most recently, I never doubted that the magisterium of the Catholic Church would do anything but adamantly teach and properly defend all moral issues and matters of faith as it had faithfully and continuously done throughout its history.  What happened in recent times?  Now there seems to be a profound confusion over permitting Holy Communion for the divorced and re-married, which was never the case.  The Amazonian Synod showcased and scandalously celebrated what even the most-simple believer deemed pagan elements and idolatry in the Vatican gardens, in St. Peter’s Basilica and in other churches of Rome.  We also hear that God (actively) wills a plurality of religions—not just permits them to exist—in direct contradiction to Jesus proclaiming that He is the way, the truth and the lifeNo one comes to the Father except through Him (see Jn. 14: 6).

Confusion triumphs over clarity.  Moral relativism dominates objective morality.  False gods find a prominent place among the One, True God.  That is, until the brakes were mysteriously pressed. Halt everything!  Now!

Profound effects and consequences of a virus:  quarantine, no Mass or sacraments, potential death

This virus has led cities and nations to various levels of quarantine.  Social distancing and shelter in place have become familiar phrases.  Certainly, we want to stay healthy ourselves and not make other people sick—especially those who may be more vulnerable and susceptible to illness.  The spiritual consequences of this virus, however, are extremely serious.  To be deprived of the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Mass at a time of crisis seems unthinkable.  Even the thought of not having an opportunity to have our sins forgiven, or not to be anointed if we are seriously ill, never really seemed possible.  The unthinkable has morphed into reality.  May we come to treasure more fully the sacramental life of the Church, whenever we are able to receive the sacraments regularly again.  May a temporary deprivation cause an even greater desire and love for the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Mass.

We also know people will continue to die from this virus and complications surrounding it.  We should pray for them and for their relatives and friends.  Innocent victims, unfortunately, will suffer and die.  While physical death is difficult to think about and painful to experience, Jesus reminds his followers of the following:  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Mt. 10: 28).

Final thoughts

Again, I believe God is making a Divine Adjustment on more than one level, mysteriously permitting a virus to get our attention at this time.  With this adjustment, there is a need for repentance and conversion of individuals, of societies/nations and of the misdeeds of the Catholic Church.
 
God desires the salvation of all people (see 1 Tim. 2:4).  So, I most urgently exhort the following: 
  • Confess your sins sacramentally (as soon as possible).  In the meantime, make an act of perfect contrition on a regular basis.  Cease any and all sinful behavior.  Stay in the state of grace.
  • Make a Spiritual Communion with Our Lord frequently—especially since there are no public Masses in so much of the world.
  • Undertake acts of reparation and do penance for the personal and societal sins that continue to offend God.
  • Pray constantly, especially imploring the intercession of the Holy Mother of God.  The rosary is a powerful weapon in this and every battle.  Remember, Our Lady told the children of Fatima that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

I proudly profess I am staunchly loyal to the Catholic Church. I pray for the Holy Father daily. I promised my ordaining bishop (and therefore his successors) that I would teach and defend the truths of the faith and not my personal opinion. This promise certainly means I will not (knowingly) teach heresy, scandalize the faithful or will I ever tolerate any form of idolatry in the presence of the One, True God.  Neither should any deacon, priest, bishop or pope.

Finally, I urge my bother priests to proclaim boldly the truths of our faith and fearlessly preach the Gospel in season and out of season, be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching (2 Tm. 4:2).


Years ago, when I was a very young priest, many of the more recently ordained sometimes worried about what they preached from the pulpit so that they would not offend anyone and risk the possibility of getting reprimanded by their superiors for it.  The worst thing any of us could ever imagine was getting suspended and being prohibited from saying any public Masses.

Sad to say that almost all of us, through absolutely no fault of our own, are currently there.  
 
Christus Vincit!

March 29, 2020
5th Sunday of Lent

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Writing a Funeral Homily (My Own!)


I don’t always write dripping with sarcasm.  However, there are times when this side of me (unfortunately) comes out.

Lest anyone think that I have finally lost it, I want to assure you that I am no more insane than usual.  Nor am I suicidal.  Nor have I been given a vision of my own time of death.  However, I have been present at far too many priest funerals (and many others) where I was simply disturbed, and occasionally, disgusted by the general content.  So many of the deceased people were automatically canonized that I just couldn’t wait to add them to my copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints.  The level of faith commitment of their lives must surely rank up there with those found in the Christian (Roman) martyrology.  The ridiculous stories about, frankly insignificant incidents in their lives (how good Father was at playing poker!) seemed to miss the entire point of why there was a Mass of Christian Burial being offered in the first place.

Let me preface everything by emphasizing that the funeral Mass is more importantly about what Christ has done for us than what any of us have done ourselves.  We cannot forgive our own sins.  We cannot resurrect our bodies from the dead.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered in reparation for any and all sins committed.  What occurred on Calvary and at the Last Supper is once again re-presented for us.  When I hear the term Life Celebration describe a funeral, my stomach starts churning and I know that I had best start searching for the nearest bathroom.

I must add this as well:  too often the music at a funeral (and, sadly, at most parish Masses) can be horrendous and belongs back in the 60’s or 70’s with Bob Dylan.  (Have you heard his voice as of late?  It has been lost completely and is somewhere out there blowing in the wind.  But I digress.)  We cling to songs (I can’t bring myself to call them hymns) from Jesuits who might just have left the priesthood or well-intentioned protestants who write something trying to resemble a not-so-catchy off-Broadway show tune.  Barf!  There goes my stomach again.  Then there are the divas (occasionally a divo) who make their leader of song task into a performance of ultimate off-off- (add as many offs as you would like) Broadway quality.  Take my advice please:  make yourself less-significant so as not to become a distraction.  The Mass is not your stage.  Lead the congregation and don't become the main attraction.

Then there is the eulogy.  Add a eulogy or two before or during the Mass, as is often the case at many parish funerals, and I begin praying my rosary so that my head does not literally explode. The ridiculous things often stated have nothing to do with eternal salvation.  “Grandma made the best cookies,” “Uncle Joe could drink everyone under the table,” “Aunt Jean sometimes cursed like a sailor”. . . .  Really?  Is this truly relevant to one’s eternal salvation?  I just can’t take it anymore!

Now that I have gotten all of that out of my system, the following is what I would like said someday when I die:


Death comes to us all.  We do not necessarily like to talk about it or to face it until we are forced to deal with it.  But it indeed comes to us all (except for, possibly, the Blessed Virgin Mary.)

The important question is:  was I ultimately prepared for this day?  I knew it was coming eventually.  When it finally arrived, was I in the state of grace?  Was I prepared to meet Almighty God and be judged?

Eternity means forever.  This is not something to ignore or to joke about foolishly.  Jesus warned His disciples to be prepared “for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Mt. 25: 13)  How many parables had this or a similar message:  the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Mt. 25: 1-13);  the Foolish Servant who buried his coin in the ground (Lk. 19: 11-28); the Rich Fool trying to build bigger barns to store his grain (Lk. 12: 16-21);  the Rich Man and Lazarus the beggar (Lk. 16: 19-31).  I could go on.  Read and reflect on these parables.  They put things in proper perspective.

I aspired to be a saint someday.  From the time of my ordination I wanted to be a good, holy priest.  I hoped that the epithet on my tombstone would perhaps be:   He was Christ-like.  There could be no greater honor than for this to be true for me or anyone. 

At the same time, there was a continual battle in my life with temptation and the sinful world in which we live.  What was it that they say?  We need to fight repeatedly against the world, the flesh and the devil.  Being truly holy and conforming my life to Christ completely seemed, at times, an insurmountable task.  My grace is sufficient for you . . . (2 Cor. 12: 9).  Thank God for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  Good old confession.  I was on my knees more and more frequently through the years.  “Forgive me Father for I have sinned . . ..”  The words of absolution were a tremendous comfort to me.  I highly recommend using it often, not just occasionally.

Please don’t assume that I am in heaven—instantly or otherwise.  No “sancto subito” for me.  I often joked about just being satisfied sneaking in through the back basement-window of purgatory.  Yes, I believe in purgatory and I will be happy to do whatever it takes and to spend as much time as necessary there as long as I will eventually have the undeserved privilege of dwelling eternally with God.  Please pray for me.  Please have Masses offered for me.  If I make it someday, I will remember you.  I promise.  I will have an eternity to complete this task.  And God will remind me of the promises I made.

This homily (as all funeral homilies) needs to emphasize primarily the saving action of Christ.  Without Him we are nothing.  He forgives our sins.  He gives us the hope of eternal life through His salvific death and Resurrection.  His death and Resurrection provide us with a Christian hope that one day we may follow a similar path as Him. 

He is the one who also called me to be His priest, His disciple.  For the times that I failed to live up to this task, I am heartily sorry.  For any time when I did not lead people to Christ, I am heartily sorry.  For whatever I failed to do as a priest—my sins of omission—I am heartily sorry.  Mea maxima culpa.

I am tremendously grateful for the privilege of offering holy Mass for my limited time on earth as a priest.  What an opportunity to speak the words of Christ:  This is My Body; This is My Blood.  If ever I did this unworthily, I am heartily sorry as well.  Please be present faithfully at Mass each week.  Someday, you will regret the times that you were not there.  Always remember to receive Holy Communion while in the state of grace (not conscious of any grave or mortal sin) and not automatically or robotically.  Again, please have Masses offered for my eternal salvation.

Someday, it is my hope that there will be a great reunion in Heaven with those I loved and who loved me.  I cry tears of joy just thinking about it! 

May God’s Forgiveness and Mercy cleanse me/us of our sinfulness and temper His Justice.  Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on me a sinner.  

Immaculate Mary, my spiritual Mother, please take me to Jesus, your Son.

Amen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Devil Made Me Do It (A Theological Editorial)



We live in a time of abundant confusion and controversy.  Politics, the Church, society (in general), all seem to be taking sides and settling into one camp or another.  Is this just a matter of changing times or is there something greater behind it all?  Something cosmic perhaps?  As we see obvious manifestations of heroic good and extreme evil in the world, do we wonder about an ultimate cause or origin of it all?

If God’s essence is love and goodness, then where does evil come from and why is it permitted to exist?  These are questions that have undoubtedly plagued every person or society willing to be reflective and to search for truth.

Coming from a Catholic background, I can sum up the basic perspective of traditional Christianity regarding these matters.  God, a Trinity of Persons who existed for all eternity, created everything out of nothing.  The hierarchy of God’s creation exists at various levels:  the purely spiritual beings (angels), those with body and spirit (humans), other living, moving creatures (animals), other living, growing things (plants) and non-living material (minerals).  Some of God’s creation received both intelligence and free will (angels and humans), attributes elevating them to resemble God.
 
The angels were tested first to ascertain their complete loyalty to God.  Some angels passed the test while others, including Lucifer (Satan), rebelled against God.  One interpretation of the angels’ test speaks of God’s revelation of His plan for humanity to the angels. Jesus was to become a human being (the Incarnation).  The insubordinate response of some angels then followed: Non serviam! “I will not serve [God]! —especially if He were to lower Himself to become a mere man.  Lucifer and his followers, because of their unbridled pride, were banished (yet not obliterated) from God’s presence for all eternity.  This place of banishment from God’s presence is hell.  There is no God, no love there.
 
Humans are also tested to see if we will respond to God and His love for us.  The first human beings also failed with the evil influence (a temptation) from Satan.  Thus, sin entered the world by an act of the will of the first humans.  However, out of love for humanity, redemption for mankind was to follow through Jesus and his salvific death on the cross.  From the very beginning, however, Satan has tried to coerce humanity to rebel, to disobey and to reject their dependence on God as he did.  Ultimately, he seeks the destruction of all humanity.  He and his followers hate us, despise us.

Does this evil intention to devastate all humanity still exit?

Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.  (1 Peter 5: 8-9)
Satan is very real.  As God is the essence of love, the devil, in contrast, is pure evil.  Again, he hates humanity.  He tries to destroy it, debase it, confuse it, cause it to abandon the true God and serve false gods.

[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him.  (John 8:44)
If we try to observe how the intended destruction of humanity has played out over the centuries, we can see examples such as the great and lesser wars, child (human) sacrifice to demons and false gods, murder, terrorism, and perhaps the most tragic of them all—abortion.  The number of human pre-born children killed from abortion worldwide (estimated at over 1.5 billion in the last 40 years by Human Life International) has surpassed the number of people killed by all wars throughout history combined.

At least 108 million people were killed in wars in the twentieth century. Estimates for the total number killed in wars throughout all of human history range from 150 million to 1 billion. (July 6, 2003, New York Times)
Not only is there the intention to destroy humanity but also it needs to be debased or denigrated.  We should realize how many influences within our society make us more like animals than human, try to bring us down to a pitiful wretchedness rather than raised to an elevated dignity and holiness.  Pornography—especially with easy and home-penetrating access on the internet—has humans performing the most perverted, disgusting acts that are everything but love-making.  Contrast the “actors” or “performers” in this multi-billion-dollar industry with the concepts of being a true gentleman or being lady-like.   Next, far too many deaths and destroyed lives are occurring from the current opioid crisis, involving both legal and illegal drug sources.  Addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, sex, smoking/vaping, food, internet, etc.) is rampant and illustrates how the shackles of over-indulgence and abuse, many times in conjunction with habitual sin, have enslaved person after person.  (There is indeed too much of a searching for love, happiness and fulfillment in all the wrong places.)  Finally, we should not leave artificial contraception (and abortion as its ultimate backup) out of the equation because this also is a misguided attempt to control—rather, to eliminate—our fertility and to throw it back in the face of God.  No one is going to tell me what I can or cannot do with my own body—not even God!  Non serviam!

The root of the word diabolical (from the Greek) is to “cast apart”—implying that confusion or division is caused.  Do we live in a time of confusion?  My truth is not your truth”—an expression illustrating Modernism in all its glory.  In society and in the Church there are concerted efforts to redefine family and marriage.  The integrity, motivation and honesty of people is questioned. (Observe closely the recent Supreme Court Justice nomination of Justice Kavanaugh and the battle surrounding it.)  Politics is bitterly divided. The Church is embattled as well.  The Church is plagued with clergy sex-abuse scandals.  Accusations exist of deep-rooted, active homosexuality among clerics.  Cardinals question other cardinals, bishops distrust other bishops, Archbishop ViganĂ² (2) (3) makes charges against Pope Francis, et. al.  The moral credibility of the Church hierarchy is severely undermined.  Confusion?  Division? Diabolical?  You betcha!

I also contend that we live in a time of tragic (silent) apostasy.  Should we not worry when many or most baptized Catholics in this country (and others) no longer practice their faith regularly, see themselves as spiritual but not religious, list their religious practice as none, or are indifferent or apathetic towards all things sacred.  Others outright deny the existence of God or are agnostic. 

The false gods of this day, as in the past, vary in kind from material possessions, to physical pleasure, to worldly power, to narcissistic adulation.  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die is, perhaps, as common a philosophy of life today as any other more novel perspective.  A lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll might be slightly modified also to include hip-hop, gangsta rap, or some other innovation or variation of “music.”  The almighty golden calf is continually in flux as is the concept of truth.  Our sports venues are our modern cathedrals.  Athletes and actors are paid obscene salaries for their “talents”.  Too often we then suffer from their celebrity, filled with unabashed, moral decadence and extreme, narcissistic, duplicitous babel.

Confusion continues within the modern Church.  Our Church has often become complacent with preaching a watered-down, sugar-coated Gospel.  All are welcome is the current mantra, forgetting, however, that repentance, conversion and picking up your daily cross are all necessary tenets of the call to authentic discipleship.  Look with me, for a moment, at a few passages from Sacred Scripture that sometimes are de-emphasized or omitted in current preaching:


Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.  (Mt. 7: 13-14)
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.  (Mt. 10: 28)
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.  (Mt. 25: 41-46)
Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  (Eph. 5: 5)
I have not tried to be a strict hell, fire and damnation preacher, but have tried to approach the Sacred Scriptures with a more wholistic approach.  However, my charge as priest has always been the care of souls and their eternal salvation.  (How much more so for bishops and the pope!)  If I take the approach that everybody is going to heaven, why bother urging conversion, repentance/penance, sacrifice, or self-denial?  Is there any real need for our missionary efforts in the world?  Immoral behavior should not concern us.  Martyrdom was a most futile witness.

If you question my train of thought here, pay close attention to the contemporary (Catholic) funeral where the deceased is immediately declared “in heaven with God,” “is in a better place,” or “is looking down on us now.”  I sincerely doubt there will be any reminder of praying for the dead or a mention of (gulp!) purgatory.  The condition of the person’s soul, whether he or she even set foot in a church, prayed, or tried to live a good life, etc. is of little or no concern.

I remember being told years ago about the Marian Apparitions at Fatima and the vision of hell that Lucia and her cousins received and which she later described:

As Our Lady spoke these last words, she opened her hands once more, as she had done during the two previous months. The rays of light seemed to penetrate the earth, and we saw as it were a sea of fire. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke now falling back on every side like sparks in huge fires, without weight or equilibrium, amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. (It must have been this sight which caused me to cry out, as people say they heard me). The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repellent likeness to frightful and unknown animals, black and transparent like burning coals. Terrified and as if to plead for succour, we looked up at Our Lady, who said to us, so kindly and so sadly: You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.
Then there was the description of hell I read in the diary of St. Faustina Kaowalska:

Today, I was led by an Angel to the chasms of hell. It is a place of great torture; how awesomely large and extensive it is! The kinds of tortures I saw: the first torture that constitutes hell is the loss of God; the second is perpetual remorse of conscience; the third is that one’s condition will never change; the fourth is the fire that will penetrate the soul without destroying it – a terrible suffering, since it is purely spiritual fire, lit by God’s anger; the fifth torture is continual darkness and a terrible suffocating smell, and despite the darkness, the devils and the souls of the damned see each other and all the evil, both of others and their own; the sixth torture is the constant company of Satan; the seventh torture is horrible despair, hatred of God, vile words, curses and blasphemies. These are the tortures suffered by all the damned together, but that is not the end of the sufferings. There are special tortures destined for particular souls. These are the torments of the senses. Each soul undergoes terrible and indescribable sufferings, related to the manner in which it has sinned. There are caverns and pits of torture where one form of agony differs from another. I would have died at the very sight of these tortures if the omnipotence of God had not supported me. Let the sinner know that he will be tortured throughout all eternity, in those senses which he made use of to sin. I am writing this at the command of God, so that no soul may find an excuse by saying there is no hell, or that nobody has ever been there, and so no one can say what it is like. I, Sister Faustina, by the order of God, have visited the abysses of hell so that I might tell souls about it and testify to its existence. I cannot speak about it now; but I have received a command from God to leave it in writing. The devils were full of hatred for me, but they had to obey me at the command of God. What I have written is but a pale shadow of the things I saw. But I noticed one thing: that most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell. When I came to, I could hardly recover from the fright. How terribly souls suffer there! Consequently, I pray even more fervently for the conversion of sinners. I incessantly plead God’s mercy upon them. O my Jesus, I would rather be in agony until the end of the world, amidst the greatest sufferings, than offend You by the least sin. (Diary of Sr. Faustina, 741)
What should a person of faith make of these writings?  Were these people telling the truth?  Were they crazy?  Personally, I think that we should pay very close attention.

My assertion is that the devil and his demons are cleverly, wickedly, hatefully acting and influencing all matters human, very much behind the chaos that we are experiencing today.  Yes, humans absolutely retain their free will.  However, through the various decisions that we make against the will of God (sin), which assuredly damage our spiritual well-being and imperil our eternal salvation, the world is in grave danger spiritually.  Evil can and does penetrate through any chink in our armor, any vulnerable area in which it is permitted to enter.  When a person, a society, a world no longer pursues the one, true God or truth or goodness, and embraces one of the lies spewed out from the Father of Lies, chaos is bound to occur.

Many good people suggest that something notable is happening supernaturally/spiritually at this point in history.  They can sense it.  I am not quite sure of the specifics.  However, I am quite certain of the final outcome: [Jesus Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. (Nicene Creed)


In the meantime, a battle for souls is still going on daily.  Some words from a former pope and a current saint might be worth considering:

This battle against the devil which characterizes the Archangel Michael is still going on, because the devil is still alive and at work in the world. In fact, the evil that is in it, the disorder we see in society, the infidelity of man, the interior fragmentation of which he is a victim, are not merely the consequences of original sin, but also the effect of the dark and infesting activity of Satan, of this saboteur of man's moral equilibrium.  (St. John Paul II, May 24, 1987, Monte Sant’ Angelo) 

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.


Fr. Ed Namiotka
Memorial of St. John Paul II
October 22, 2018



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Homily for the Funeral Mass of Fr. Kenneth J. Johnston




As a seminarian, I once heard a rather stark statement that I never forgot.  It was attributed to the late John Cardinal Krol, former Archbishop of Philadelphia.  “There’s no one deader than a dead priest.”  Wow!

I understand the general sentiment.  Celibate male clergy have no biological heirs.  We come in and out of people’s lives only for a limited time.  We have no committed relationship to an individual person, no companionship or attachment like a husband and wife do.  Following Jesus, our spouse is the Church.

And when we die, who will remember us?  Who will be there to mourn?  We will all be replaced.  Even popes, cardinals and bishops.  Our current assignment filled by someone else.  I thought some of these thoughts when I stood by and viewed the late Cardinal’s body lying in repose in the Philadelphia Cathedral back in 1996.

Last night I “googled” Fr. Kenneth Johnston’s name to see what I would find.  In fact, I found very little:  a brief obituary, mention of his Golden Jubilee as a priest, his sister Patricia’s obituary, a couple of online condolences.  This hardly tells the story of a man who served Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, the Diocese of Camden, for 50 years as a priest.

I realize that most of Fr. Johnston’s life and ministry were pre-Internet.  When he taught in the classroom he had none of the modern tools that today’s educators use regularly.  Father gave us mimeographed handouts, we read text books, he wrote on the blackboard with chalk.  That’s how I first met Fr. Ken Johnston, as a teacher and vice-principal of Wildwood Catholic High School.  It was back in 1974 and I was a 14-year-old freshman.

Fr. Johnston was a born educator:  well-organized, interesting and informative.  For as long as I knew him, he aged slowly and gracefully.  He looked the same, just a bit older.  He was comfortable being alone, reading, praying.

If I could reformulate an old movie title to capture Fr. Johnston’s life, it would be “An Educator and a Gentleman.”   He was truly both.  His priesthood assignments had him in five of the diocesan high schools.  He served on the Continuing Education and Spiritual Formation of Priests Committee (C.E.S.F.) for many years.  He was proud of his education at the American Seminary in Louvain, Belgium.

Many who interacted with him mention something about his “gentleman” qualities and demeanor.  I realize that he was not perfect and that he struggled with his personal demons at various points of his life.  Yet, he would continue to get up when he fell, to move forward and persevere, generally without complaint or the need to be noticed.  Whenever we shared a meal and the conversation would seem to drift in a negative direction or criticism of someone, he would simply change the subject.

Fr. Johnston was pastor of three parishes, before health issues and a couple strokes led to his eventual retirement.  The fact that he died so quickly, caught me and many others off guard.  You know neither the day nor the hour . . . (See Mt. 25:13).

As I remind my parishioners so often in my parish funeral homilies, the funeral is more about what Christ does for us than what we do for Christ.  We cannot save ourselves, we cannot forgive our own sins.  Only Christ can do this.  Funeral Masses should not be solely celebrations of life or mini-canonizations.  Death and Christian funerals are about Christ’s salvific action and the accountability of our lives before Him.  Recall the 2nd reading from this past Sunday:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5:10)

We will all be judged by Christ and I dare say we humans are not perfect.  I, for one, want people to pray for me when I die.  Please have Masses offered for my soul.  I beg you now for those prayers and Masses for me, for Fr. Ken, for all priests.

It is our faith in Jesus Christ and His Resurrection from the dead that carries us through difficult times like these.  The souls of the just are in the hands of God . . . (Wisdom 3:1).  We are connected to Jesus in baptism, adopted by God as sons and daughters—children of God—through Christ.
 
Additionally, Fr. Johnston was transformed by priesthood ordination into another Christ—an alter Christus—called to serve the People of God.

As an alter Christus, the priest is profoundly united to the Word of the Father who, in becoming incarnate took the form of a servant, he became a servant (Phil 2: 5-11). The priest is a servant of Christ, in the sense that his existence, configured to Christ ontologically, acquires an essentially relational character: he is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ, at the service of humankind. - Pope Benedict XVI24 June 2009 (Year of the Priest)
The priest acts in persona Christi—in the person of Christ—in every sacrament.   We are especially privileged, as priests, to feed the People of God every day of our lives with the Bread of Life at Mass.  We speak the words of Our Lord:  This is my Body, this is my Blood.  And it happens!  Christ becomes truly present!  Fr. Johnston did this as priest for 50 years!  Think of those powerful words of today’s gospel from St. John—Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse:  . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day . . . (John 6:54).

Priests also proclaim and explain the Scriptures so that Christ is alive and present in the Word as well!  Priests anoint the sick, forgive sinners, witness marriages, baptize, and occasionally confirm.  Fr. Johnston did all of this for 50 years!

Exactly how many lives did he touch in the process?  Only God really knows.  However, I read about one of those times online yesterday: 

“God bless and reward Father Ken Johnston. He lost his parents as a young boy and overcame this to encourage others facing life's difficulties. He was good to me and my family.”

So today we pray for Fr. Johnston.  We ask God to forgive his sins.  While we mourn, we still have hope—Christian hope—that he is not dead, but very much alive.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death is your victory?
Where, O death is your sting?
. . . Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15: 55, 57)

Rest in Peace, Fr. Ken.