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Homilies


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Dominica XIII per Annum A

2 July 2017

Common, ordinary things, small matters, things that seem familiar or even somewhat insignificant can have a value or meaning far beyond their scope.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m sure you have noticed the common, ordinary, small courtesy that quite a few people seem to be lacking at the grocery store.  It’s a little thing I call: “Move-your-cart-over-to-the-side-of-the-aisle-while-you-gaze-at-products-so-that-other-shoppers-can-pass-by.”  Okay, deep cleansing breath!  I’m feeling much better now!  It’s not a big matter; but it means a lot.  Not long ago at my bank I was quickly filling out my deposit slip in an empty lobby.  You know what happened next.  In this fallen world, as I was literally writing in my last number on the slip and ready to step up to the teller, suddenly two other customers arrived and then I was stuck in a line.  What got me most was that the waiting was prolonged because the customer in front of me did not know her account number.  It’s such a common, ordinary matter but it has a value beyond its scope.  If you come to your bank and expect a transaction to be credited in your favor, you should probably know your account number or at least have it written down somewhere.  Common, ordinary things can have a value beyond their scope.

A woman of influence in the first reading, together with her husband, provides the Prophet Elisha dinner and then provides a little room for his lodging since he “is a holy man of God.”  In time, their simple, ordinary kindness results in the reward of a baby.  In the gospel Jesus instructs his apostles as he prepares to send them out on mission.  He indicates that the one who does the simple act of giving cold water to his little disciples who labor in the mission will “surely not lose his reward.”  A simple, ordinary, seemingly insignificant matter that has a value beyond its scope.

This is, in part, how the Sacraments work.  They are ordinary, common, familiar things in life, in the natural world around us.  Things like water, oil, bread and wine, or the exchange of marital vows.  But they have a value beyond their familiarity because Jesus, who is God, has made them instruments of his divine life.  We have to train ourselves then to see through the ordinary and the familiar in this life in order to be aware of the divine at work in our midst.  St. Paul highlights this dynamic in the second reading when he discusses the significance of what really happens in baptism.  In baptism the common, familiar element of water is seen.  But what truly happens is that we are baptized in Jesus’ death.  We are buried with him so that “we too might live in newness of life.”  And so, we must think of ourselves as “dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

The notion of the extraordinary value and meaning of the ordinary in our lives makes me recall a quote from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).  Quite a few quotes attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta also highlight this dynamic of the far greater meaning and scope of ordinary things done in faith.

  • “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
  • “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
  • “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Even the urgency to put Jesus first and the priority of his Kingdom are extraordinary matters determined in the midst of our ordinary choices and family relationships.  Jesus says: Whoever loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And so look around your life.  Is it full of common, familiar, ordinary moments, elements, and events?  Then you have a field ripe for extraordinary living with God!

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sollemnitas Corpus Christi

Dt. 8:2-3, 14b-16a; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; Jn. 6:51-58

18 June 2017 (Father’s Day)

I want to begin today with a brief prayer.  If you are so inclined you can close your eyes and ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit.  “Lord Jesus Christ, we pray that You would cover us, our families, and all of our possessions with Your love and the power of Your Most Precious Blood.  Bind and drive out from among us any spirits who are opposed to Your Kingdom.  Soften our hearts and heal our wounds so that we may receive Your Word today.  Surround all of us with Your heavenly Angels, Saints, the strong arms of St. Joseph, and the mantle of Our Blessed Mother.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Consider this hypothetical situation: What if we all knew that some defect in the water pipes of this church was resulting in harmful exposure to a high percentage of parishioners and running the high likelihood of serious physical health risks and even death… and we did nothing?  We said nothing.  I take it you would think that is crazy and irresponsible.  You might even sue or demand the Pastor and other parish staff be replaced.  We have basically that very situation, but in the area of spiritual health.  And most people hear almost nothing about it from pulpits.  Little is said or done to battle the crisis which is at epidemic proportions.

Today I want to discuss a topic that impacts many men and women across many age categories.  While the impact is broad, it does seem true that this spiritual health risk seems to have a more significant hold on men and boys.  Since the male susceptibility to this challenge is so high I am intentionally using Father’s Day to treat this topic and to call men in particular to battle, to better health of soul, and to better fulfill the role of protector for their family.  Of course, I want to be sensitive to younger ears among us, but at the same time it could be irresponsible for me to be vague.  Thus, I am going to speak this word one time so that no one can doubt what I am treating today, but after that I will use other language so as to limit exposure to younger ears.  I think it is necessary to speak on the topic of the pervasive presence and use of pornography in our society.

All indications are that this is a widespread problem in our society, made ever more broad by easy access and free content through the internet.  I have made some general reference to this topic in other homilies but this is, I believe, the first time in eighteen years as a priest that I have given this topic direct focus.  Thus, I first want to apologize to you on this Father’s Day for failing to devote attention to this earlier in a clear, courageous, and manly way as your spiritual father.  That is a failure and a weakness on my part because I should have been more resolved to protect my flock, just as you dads must do for yourself and for your families.  Today that failure ends.

The statistics are alarming.

  • Studies indicate that 73% of kids are exposed to explicit material before the age of 18.  42% of kids first view it before the age of 13.
  • The average age of first exposure to explicit images on the internet is 11 years old.
  • The largest consumers of this material on the internet are kids ages 12 to 17.
  • 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women say they are regular users of this material.
  • And with access to the digital world on our smartphones it is alarming that 1 in 5 mobile phone searches is for explicit material.

At younger and younger ages kids are spending significant amounts of time online daily.  One study found that nearly 70% of kids ages 2 to 5 can operate a computer mouse, but only 11% can tie their own shoes.   Together with this, studies show that only 1/3 of parents set up parental controls and monitor their children’s online activity.  In addition, 41% of American teens agree that their parents have no idea what they are doing online.   No one is immune from this invasion and the problem exists in Christian homes as it does in other homes.  I don’t want to be misunderstood as if the problem doesn’t exist among girls and women too.  However, boys and men fall prey to this at significantly higher rates.  In all categories of statistics measuring things like type of content viewed, age of first exposure, and frequency of use, boys and men outpace girls and women by large percentage margins.  One study indicated that the strongest predictor of use of explicit material is simply being male.  

One of the realities of this topic is that a person, through no fault of his or her own, can be exposed to this material quite innocently.  A misspelled word in a search engine can lead to exposure and that can place a hook in a person.  If we aren’t careful first exposure develops into repeated curiosity and that develops into habitual use that impedes healthy human development and spiritual development.  First exposure happened easily enough when I was a kid but we must admit that with the dawn of the internet it happens much more easily and frequently now, and it comes directly into your home.  First exposure to explicit material now happens in the room next door where your child is on the computer, tablet, or smartphone.

This is a matter that cannot be ignored in the parish, in your family life, or in each person’s examination of conscience.  We can’t be silent while souls are being ensnared and the risk of hell increases.  Use of this explicit material makes its users spiritually crippled and deadened.  It is serious sin that needs to be confessed immediately, and especially before coming forward to receive Holy Communion.  It becomes enslaving.  It negatively impacts personal discipline, dating, marriage, and even the ability of a young person to trust a call from God to priesthood or to a religious vocation.  I hope I don’t cause rash judgment or awkward situations here, but given the statistics on use of explicit material: Parents, you should likely just assume that your child has been exposed, and that your middle school and high school aged child may already have a habit of use.  You must speak with them.  You must first treat this issue in your own life with serious resolve.  You must take measures to control and eliminate the entry points for this material into your home.  Use internet locks and filters and even have everyone in the house turn in all cellular and internet devices each evening where they remain locked in the parents’ bedroom until morning.  Men, dear brothers in the faith: You especially need to take such measures to protect yourselves, your wives, and your children.  We need to live courageously this aspect of fatherhood as protector in our homes.

As the spiritual father here I want to set the tone for our response to this moral epidemic by saying that in the spiritual family of this parish, no one is permitted to shame anyone else about this struggle.  The devil knows what he is doing in trafficking this filth.  Anyone who is struggling needs to know they are loved, they are supported, and that they are called to true and authentic human relationships.  Jesus gives us the example from the woman caught in adultery who easily could have been shamed.  Instead, he says: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (Jn. 8:11).  So, in this parish, I am opening this topic for conversation and I am asking you to continue it in your home and with your family.  Opening this to conversation can allow healing to take place.  This is because in talking openly and honestly we will draw each other, spouses and children, into more authentic relationships that, together with confession, prayer, struggle, and acts of penance, will result in lessening the grip of false virtual “relationships”.  Anyone struggling needs to be prudent, but opening this matter – not to everyone – but to a trusted friend can offer accountability in the battle.  I want you to know that there are in fact people who do not use explicit material.  The battle is possible.  Victory is already with Christ Jesus.  And others in this parish will be ready to stand with you as you engage in battle.  It is time to reject the devil’s message that tells you to keep this matter hidden.  Kept hidden in the darkness, he increases his power over you.  In the light, he flees.

Furthermore, we are also going to confess this matter with humility and honesty each and every time there is a fall and a sin.  God is ready to meet you in this struggle and He is already loving you as you hear this invitation to confession.  He loves you and He wants you to have a deeper relationship with Him.  In the bulletin this weekend there are some resources grouped together to go along with this topic.  You can follow the links provided and get more information and resources for help in the battle for purity.  Remember too that my homilies are recorded and available as a podcast on the parish website.  The text is also posted on the website.  It may be helpful to listen to this message again or to pass it along to others you know.  As spiritual father I want to give some clear directions.  These directions can be followed by anyone, but on this Father’s Day I want to issue a special call to the men of our parish to engage in this battle and to step up with fellow brothers to be evermore the protectors and the spiritual heads of our families that we are called to be.

  • Therefore, I want every man in this parish to learn how to pray the Rosary to invoke Mary in this battle.  She brought us her Son who crushed the serpent’s head.  Her intercession is powerful.  Resources to learn the Rosary can be found through the parish office or online.  Pray it in your home with your family.  I would like more and more men to volunteer to lead the Rosary before the start of each weekend Mass.
  • Reverent worship is a weapon in the battle and so, in addition to faithful attention at Holy Mass, I ask each of you to sign up for a Holy Hour of Adoration in our chapel, or to share an hour with your family, or with another friend.  Come receive blessing in the Lord’s Real Presence and train your eyes to look upon the Holy One in our midst.
  • Men, I encourage you to invoke St. Joseph in this battle and to ask his help to see in him a great example of what it means to be a man of faith, a man of strength, and a man of purity in the family.
  • Don’t forget the value of using Sacred Scripture, taking on practices like fasting, and using blessed objects like Holy Water or religious medals.
  • Finally, make regular use of confession and take the steps necessary to find an accountability partner.

On this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, we celebrate our faith that in holiness and purity Jesus gives us His true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as the food for our journey to salvation.  In this battle for purity where easy temptation offers the ability to be a consumer of someone else’s body, we need to respond by preparing ourselves to consume Jesus’ flesh with always greater reverence so that we remain in him.  Jesus shows us the characteristic of sacrificial love, which is part of human love and the meaning of the human body.  “This is my Body.”  We hear those words of Jesus at each and every Holy Mass.  May they be our constant reminder to say “no” to those whose flesh is exposed for profit and instead to submit ourselves to the flesh of Jesus Christ that saves us!

_________________________________________

1 Smith, J.R. 2011, January.  Kids are learning computer skills before life skills.  AVG Official Blogs, http://blogs.avg.com/uncategorized/kids-learning-computer-skills-before-life-skills/.

 2 Symantec, 2008, February 13.  Parents, get a clue!  Norton Online Living Report reveals what your cyber-savvy children know that you don’t.  http://www.symantec.com/about/news/release/article.  jsp?prid=20080213_01.

 3 Gustavo Mesch, “Social bonds and Internet pornographic exposure among adolescents.”  Journal of Adolescence 32 (2009): 601-618.

 

Solemnity of Pentecost - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Dominica Pentecostes

4 June 2017

Before our association of Pentecost as a Christian feast, Pentecost is a Jewish feast, in fact, one of the three most solemn feasts of the Jewish faith.  As the term “Pentecost” refers to the fiftieth day, the Jewish feast of Pentecost then falls fifty days after the Passover.  It originally celebrated the harvesting of grain and later came to celebrate God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Thus, as an aspect of Jewish faith, Pentecost observed God’s establishing of a covenant in stone with the giving of the commandments.  It was this Jewish feast day that had the apostles, Mary, and other disciples gathered in Jerusalem when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son took place, thus marking the beginnings of Pentecost as a Christian feast.

The Church concludes the Holy Season of Easter with this great solemnity of Pentecost, coming fifty days since Easter Sunday.  For us as Christians Pentecost does not observe God’s covenant with us in stone.  Rather, we might say that we celebrate at Pentecost that God’s covenant with us has come closer and deeper than commandments on stone tablets.  We might even go so far to say that God’s covenant with us has come still closer and even deeper than when God the Son took on our flesh and showed us divine love in human form.  We can make this claim because at Pentecost we observe that the Holy Spirit of God has come to dwell within us, to animate us with the very life, power, and love of God.  But then the question for each of us to consider is whether I give God a tender and receptive flesh, heart, and soul in which to take up residence as in a temple?  Or do I give God only a stony heart in my relationship with Him?

On this Pentecost I want to draw our attention to a biblical phrase [that we heard in the second reading].  In his First Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul writes: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).  Certainly, just about anyone can say that phrase, right?  “Jesus is Lord!”  In fact, I recall growing up how my dad would laugh on our way to church in Oklahoma City because our route would take us by a business called the “Jesus is Lord Pawn Shop.”  But to gauge the kind of residence we give to the Holy Spirit we should ask ourselves what it means to say that Jesus is Lord.  And if we say he is our Lord, are we saying that by the Holy Spirit?  Or is there something less than authentic in our claim of his Lordship?

The term “Lord” refers to someone who has sovereign rights and full control over someone or something.  To call Jesus our “Lord” means he is the master, the supreme authority, the one who owns us, the one we must obey.  At least that’s what it means if we speak by the Holy Spirit!  If we foster life in the Holy Spirit, which was first given to us at Baptism and in fullness at Confirmation, then when we call Jesus our Lord we recognize that we are being called into a living covenant with Jesus.  We are NOT called to a covenant of stone, but to live the very life breath of God who fills us with powerful breath and purifying fire, driving out all that is not of God.  Is that the kind of tender, receptive flesh you provide to God for the dwelling of the Holy Spirit?  Does Jesus’ lordship, mastery, and sovereignty show in your life?  It must if we speak with any Christian authenticity when we say, “Jesus is Lord.”  Where we recognize areas of sin in life, areas where we are not obedient to Jesus, areas where our heart is hardened by sin and wounds that steal the newness of life God desires for us, then we know the exact target where we want to invite the Holy Spirit to come and dwell more deeply.  We know the exact target where we work to reform our lives so that our speaking of Jesus’ lordship is more authentic and motivated by the Holy Spirit.

To receive the Holy Spirit, and to seek to drink and to breathe more of the Holy Spirit in our daily living, is to understand that Jesus calls us to a living covenant, a living relationship with him.  The term “Lord” does not first call to mind a philosophy or a teaching or a code of life.  Rather, I would say, it is a relational term.  Jesus is my master in all things.   There is not one area of my life where he is not invited and does not have control and dominion.  At least, that’s what it means if I speak by the Holy Spirit when I call Jesus ‘Lord.’  He is Lord of my mouth, how I speak and how I use words on social media posts.  He is Lord of my time in the sacred gift I set aside for daily prayer.  He is Lord of my Sundays.  He is Lord my money and my home.  He is Lord of my recreation and hobbies.  He is Lord of my vacation time.  He is Lord of my body and what I do with it.  He is Lord of my relationships.  He is Lord of my internet use.  EVERYTHING is submitted to life in his kingdom!

Do you call Jesus “Lord”?  Is it by the Holy Spirit that you say that?  Where it is not, repent and receive the Holy Spirit in confession, and then pray asking the Holy Spirit to come ever more deeply into your heart to establish a more true lordship for Jesus.

 

5th Sunday of Easter - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dominica V Paschae A

14 May 2017

I want you to listen to this narrative from the initial verses of the Acts of the Apostles that gives us a picture of what life in the early days of the ancient Catholic Church was like: [Read Acts 2:42-47].

The section of the Acts of the Apostles we hear from today in the first reading, however, comes later, from the time period when the mission of the Church is growing beyond Jerusalem.  And given what we heard in today’s first reading the veneer of harmony in the Church is wearing thin and cracks are appearing.  The reading tells us of complaining between two groups, those of Greek influence and the Hebrews, some thinking their widows were being neglected in the food distribution.

Now I know this is hard to believe but – Some times, SOME TIMES! – divisions and lack of harmony happens still!  There can be constituencies, factions, groups, and organizations in parish life all vying for favor and meeting space and for a mention in the announcements if possible!  I know it seems hard to believe, but just trust me: Other parishes are like that!

As the Church grew various needs and demands arose that were beyond the original focused command of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all Jesus had commanded.  Those new needs and demands, those things – like providing food to widows – may be good and worthy things in and of themselves.  But are they the main mission of the Church?  That is what the Apostles were facing in the first reading.  The Apostles have great clarity.  Faced with the complaining and the demands, they say in summary: 

  • Look, we’re apostles.
  • You don’t need an apostle for food distribution.
  • You need an apostle for prayer and for serving the word of God.

I find encouragement in this reading, and I would encourage my brother priests and the bishops of the Church to have this same clarity about their mission in the world.  More than something that might resemble an office job I would say priests and bishops should have this clarity of the Apostles.  Namely, the primacy of serving God’s word and of prayer.  That is what Jesus needs his ministers in the world to be about.

But we can extend this apostolic lesson of the primacy of God’s word to each disciple, not only for priests and bishops.  So, we might ask: 

  • Does God’s word have primacy in your life?
  • Do you conform your life to it?  Do you seek to change your life where it is not consistent with God’s word?
  • Do you turn to God’s word for prayer?  Do you use it for reflection and meditation?

You should!  Without putting God’s word first we risk what the second reading said: stumbling “by disobeying the word.”  To not have God’s word as a primary guide for our life is to be in darkness.  When you are in a very dark place, when you come out of it and the light first hits you, you shield yourself.  It’s almost painful.  We don’t want to have that reaction when we meet God, and so we need to live in the light of God’s word now.  This will help us respond to Jesus who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  With the primacy of God’s word in the life of each disciple we are better equipped to respond to God who has “called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

4th Sunday of Easter - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Dominica IV Paschae A

7 May 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday: World Day of Prayer for Vocations

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is typically called “Good Shepherd Sunday” and the Church attaches to this Sunday the annual observance of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  There is an important principle in our faith life as Catholics that reflects the truth of how we see God act time and time again in history and as recorded in the Sacred Scriptures.  This principle is that God often works through mediators, instruments, to encounter His people and to bestow His grace.  Take the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles as an example.  At the end of the first reading we heard the good news that “about three thousand persons were added that day” to the Church.  These three thousand persons came to faith and were baptized after accepting the message.  How did they accept God’s message?  Because He spoke to each of the three thousand personally and directly, right?  No, rather, because Peter followed God’s prompting and spoke up, delivering God’s message of repentance and baptism by strong preaching.  God’s message came through Peter.  Peter served as a mediator for God’s message.  He served as the instrument God could use to communicate with people in words they could understand so that they would repent and be joined to the Church.

God working through mediators, through the instrumentality of His servants, is seen time and time again.  In the Old Covenant God chose a people and formed them as a visible presence in this world through which He intended to invite all mankind back into harmony of life with Him.  To lead that people, God chose instruments like Moses, King David, and the prophets.  In the fullness of time, God the Son Himself came into our world and adopted our very flesh as an instrument, a means of mediation, to show Himself to the world and to bring about our salvation.  Not discarding our flesh after the Resurrection, Jesus continues to rely upon human servants to spread his gospel and to call people to life in the Church.  The very fact that we have a book of the Bible called the “Acts of the Apostles” tells us of this mediation and instrumentality that the work of the apostles was used by Jesus to continue his own shepherding.  The sacraments themselves follow this same principle: that God uses ordinary elements in this world to communicate to us His saving power and life.

On Good Shepherd Sunday we recall that Christ’s flock is not made up of one sheep, but rather many.  You and I come to faith in Jesus because of the faith of the Church and because of the faith of others – most often our parents and Godparents – who bring us into the fold.  We do not come to faith purely by ourselves as if the flock of the Good Shepherd were only a “me and Jesus” affair.  As inconvenient as it may at times be, we are called together to form a community that is visible and that follows the Good Shepherd.  And together with a visible flock we have visible shepherds in the Catholic Church.  This again highlights the manner of God’s acting by mediation and instrumentality: Just as with St. Peter’s preaching, so the ministry of those ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a means by which Jesus the Good Shepherd continues to act in our midst.

In the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders a man is configured to Christ in a particular way and is called to public ministry as an icon of Christ, a visible manifestation of the one Good Shepherd who leads his flock by the mediation and instrumentality of deacons, priests, and bishops.  Just as Moses and other leaders of old, so Peter, the other apostles, and ordained shepherds of the Church today, all have their own personality defects, their weaknesses, and their sins.  Moses was at times complaining and disobedient.  Peter was often too quick to speak and of course he denied Christ.  But the Lord can still accomplish his mission through his chosen shepherds.  For whatever weaknesses and lack of skill and sin are theirs, we pray for our deacons, priests, and bishops and we offer to be of service with them so that the mission of Christ might be accomplished.  We pray for and support our shepherds as a way to battle the temptation of complaining about our shepherds, however not in any way denying they have weaknesses.  We have to keep the shepherd and the flock together.  This is the desire of Jesus.  After all seeking entrance or exit from the sheepfold apart from the gate, apart from the shepherd, is – using Jesus’ own words – to be a thief and a robber.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday I want to make sure we are aware of an important moment in parish history to come this summer when, for the first time since our founding in 1993, a young man from our parish, Deacon Kelly Edwards, will be ordained a priest of Jesus Christ for service in this archdiocese.  Beginning this weekend in the Universal Prayers we will accompany Kelly and pray for him as he approaches sacred ordination.  And we will be prepared to join him as he offers his First Solemn Mass here on Sunday, June 25, at 10:30.  It is an important sign of health and vitality when a parish produces vocations.  We should thank God that our parish expects the ordination of her first priest.  We should thank God that we have still more seminarians from the parish and other young men interested in God’s call.  We should thank God that in the past three years we have had two young women from the parish go to the convent to test the call to religious life.  These are good signs.  But we must always pray that the Lord’s will for our young people and his call to them will be something they welcome.  It is not enough to pray generically for vocations.  Pray that the Lord call a vocation directly from your family, from your home.  The Lord wants to give us his life more abundantly.  In particular the ministry of the ordained is one of those means by which we will have the life of Jesus more abundantly.

We consider Jesus’ work of shepherding today.  And we acknowledge that he still calls future shepherds from our midst.  To the children and young people here: You can be sure God has a plan for your life.  His plan for you is a gift of His love for you!  To the boys and young men here, I say: Do not be afraid if He calls you to be a priest!  Jesus wants you to have life and to be happy.  His call for your vocation will be a way the Good Shepherd leads you to a full life.  To the teens and young adults here: To hear the call of God you must be praying daily.  You won’t hear God’s call without prayer.  Consider all the options for your life.  It could be you who are called to priesthood or religious life.  To the adults, the parents, grandparents, and other family here: Make sure your kids know that you support whatever vocation is theirs.  They should here you say directly to them: “I would be proud of you if you became a priest or religious.”  Let them know you desire to give to the Good Shepherd whatever he needs to fulfill his plan for abundant life, giving him even one of your own flesh and blood.

Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday

15 & 16 April 2017

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  The resurrection of Jesus is an event witnessed to by those who were there, those who saw the empty tomb, and who encountered Jesus alive after his fearful death.  The resurrection of Jesus is an event to which the eyewitnesses were so committed that they were willing to give up their own lives to proclaim this truth.  We see such commitment unto death to proclaim Jesus resurrected in the case of the apostles, and, perhaps even more noteworthy, in the case of so many faithful women and men martyrs throughout Christian history who did not even live in Jesus’ time period.

When a loved one dies we show them respect and love by caring for their grave.  We might decorate the grave at points throughout the year with flowers and mementos.  We maintain a reverential and loving atmosphere around a grave.  Cemeteries commonly have boards and trusts with basic perpetual care plans ensuring that even when such a time comes as a person’s descendants no longer survive or live nearby, regular care of the cemetery and headstones can be maintained.  In this light it strikes me as significant that once the resurrection happens the gospels say very little about Jesus’ tomb and it doesn’t even appear that all the apostles bothered to visit the tomb.  Two of the four gospels don’t even mention the tomb, as if Jesus’ closest friends and loved ones have no interest in it.  The two gospels that do mention it, do so only once.  St. Matthew, from whom we just heard, clearly places the emphasis not on the tomb, mentioned only once, but rather on the emphasis to go to Galilee, mentioned twice.  Such little reference to the tomb makes sense if the apostles and disciples encountered the Risen Jesus.  After all, who cares about a grave when the occupant is alive and walking among you?  The empty tomb can be considered as evidence for our faith.  Yet, that Jesus’ tomb seems largely ignored and not even visited by all the apostles and disciples might also tell us something else that directly impacts us: Namely, that personally seeing the empty tomb really is not even a necessary element for the basis of Christian faith.  Because once you have encountered the Risen Jesus, the tomb really doesn’t matter much.

Accepting the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as is essential to Christian faith, I now want to offer a spiritual interpretation of this gospel account of the resurrection.  Perhaps some of what the gospel shares can illuminate how we need to be vigilant to live more in the resurrection.  In the gospel, day is dawning.  Light is growing.  In a certain sense, these first verses of the 28th chapter of St. Matthew, focusing as they do on light, might recall for us the early verses of the Book of Genesis, when light from darkness was one of the first things God created.  In the midst of chaos and formlessness at the dawn of history, and in the midst of sadness and grief at the dawn of the resurrection, God’s created light is growing.  Yet, the two Marys from the gospel are more focused on the darkness, at least initially.  They are coming to see the tomb.  They are seeking, the angel says, “Jesus the crucified.”  And what do you and I tend to look for in life?  Do we spend more effort dwelling on tombs, where Jesus is not, or on encountering the Risen One in our midst?

In what habits, manners, personality traits, and ways of life are we focused on darkness while light is dawning?  Maybe we have personality defects, or some habitual sin, or some suffering external or internal to us that keeps us focused more on wounds and death, much like the women were seeking Jesus the crucified.  In such ways then the words of the angel need to resonate deeply in us: “He is not here!”  In a sense then the gospel’s paucity of reference to the tomb can be a loud proclamation to us: Don’t linger at your tombs.  Don’t dwell hopelessly on the places in your life where there is darkness and lack of life, where there are wounds and even death.  Go instead, following Jesus’ lead, to where he supplies love, healing, and life.  To be clear, I’m not saying turn a blind eye to areas of darkness in your life; not even the gospels do that regarding the tomb.  I’m simply saying, don’t dwell there.  Acknowledge your darkness and your tombs, yes, but seek to place more focus on the Risen One.  And be prepared for him to tell you to leave the darkness, the wounds, the death, the tomb behind and instead to go someplace else, and to encounter him there.

The angel and Jesus himself both speak the words that the apostles and disciples are to go to Galilee and there they will see Jesus.  To continue this spiritual interpretation: Where does Jesus want you to go?  If you turn yourself away from the darkness, the woundedness, and the tombs of life, in what direction does Jesus want you to go?  Where or what is the Galilee in your life that will become a place of encounter not with a dead Jesus, but the very much alive and risen Jesus Christ?  We might surmise that the insistence that the apostles go to Galilee is significant because it was familiar home territory for them.  Where is your Galilee?  What is it in your life that hits pretty close to home where you don’t feel fully alive?  Will you let Jesus beckon you there?  Will you acknowledge it to him and be prepared to see him there?  We might surmise that the insistence that the apostles go to Galilee is a test of their faith, as if to say: Leave all this in Jerusalem behind and go where I told you I would show myself to you.  Where is your Galilee?  What areas or things of life require you to step out in faith and to believe that you can encounter Jesus even there?  As disciples we have to combat the tendency to focus on the darkness and instead we need to turn and face the dawning light.

The good news of our faith that Jesus is risen and still living is that if you will not dwell in the darkness, the wounds, the crucifixions, the death, and the tombs of your life then Jesus will show himself alive to you before you even get all the way to your Galilee.  For just as when the women began to move away from the tomb, well before any arrival in Galilee, the gospel tells us: “Jesus met them on their way.”  The Risen One doesn’t want to give you life only upon arriving at the place to which he calls you.  Rather, he wants to encounter you even on the way, to bless your faith for having left the tomb behind, and to call you to deeper life with him now and in the place he calls you to go.  Do not be afraid!  Go to Galilee and there you will see him.

Holy Thursday - Fr. Hamilton

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday

13 April 2017

On this holy night that begins the Sacred Triduum, the sacred three days that celebrate how Christ accomplished our salvation, the Church reflects on three principal mysteries from the Last Supper.  The first and second mysteries are the two Sacraments our Lord gave us on this holy night: He established the Holy Eucharist to be the New Passover in which the lamb to be shared by each faithful Jewish family is now fulfilled in the family of the Church where, always first seeking absolution from our sins, we are invited to eat the Lamb of God which is Jesus himself, his true Body and Blood offered for us and for our nourishment so that we may have true life within us.  The other Sacrament we consider this evening is that in giving us his Body and Blood the Lord, at the same time, established the Priestly Order in the sacrament of Holy Orders.  It is through the validly ordained priest that Jesus himself has chosen to operate in a privileged way at Holy Mass for the good of his people.  The priest lends his life, his hands, his voice, his heart to the Lord who once again makes himself present to us, changing bread and wine into that same New Passover gift of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  This is a mystery and a gift, the priesthood is, that we will see take place this summer in the life of Deacon Kelly Edwards, the first son of our parish to be ordained to the priesthood.  And looking at our altar boys this evening and knowing their service week after week, surely the Spirit of the Lord’s anointing is among us to provide future priests for the Church.  The third mystery we commemorate this evening is that at supper with his apostles the Lord gave the command to observe fraternal charity.  By washing their feet, the Lord provided the example to his first priests of how they are to serve and to love one another.  This command extends to all disciples to follow what our Lord and Master has modeled for us.

To correct some misplaced emphases of the last few decades it is important to state that the central purpose of the Holy Mass, well before the supper aspect or the aspect of the anticipation of the heavenly banquet, is sacrifice.  Thus, when we gather before the sacred altar we do not gather to celebrate our community or ourselves.  Rather, we gather as a community that belongs to the Lord to offer and to participate in the one saving sacrifice by which, united to Jesus, the Priest and the Victim of the same sacrifice, we give to God the one perfect sacrifice that pays the debt for our sins.

Why is the notion of sacrifice so important?  God, in His generous love, provides us every good thing.  Adam and Eve in the Original Sin, and we in our personal sins, choose to dwell in greater or lesser degree apart from God.  Living apart from God is sin and it brings separation and death.  By making animal sacrifice, the people of the Old Covenant were offering life in place of the death of sin.  This was symbolized in animal sacrifice acknowledging, as the Book of Leviticus does, that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11).  Thus the blood sacrifice of animals, and specifically a lamb, was a sin offering to atone for man’s separation from God and the death such sin brings.  Man had separated himself from God by sin.  In repentance he separated from his material goods, from his flock, a lamb whose life would be offered as something set apart and made holy to atone for sin.

As I mentioned in my Palm Sunday homily, it is not simply accepting the holy teaching of religion that saves us; it is not simply following a Christian moral code that saves us.  Yes, these are important elements of our faith life.  But to be clear, what saves us is the saving deed of Jesus Christ on the Cross together with his Resurrection.  What we observe in particular this holy evening is that no longer does man set aside and offer imperfect sacrifice to God.  Now, Jesus – God Himself – takes the place of the sacrifice, being the true Lamb of God whose Blood makes the sacrifice of the most perfect life of all in place of our sins and the death they bring to us.

Jesus intended to do something new with the Passover ritual on that first Holy Thursday night with his apostles.  We can briefly consider that on the first Palm Sunday, just days before the event of the Last Supper, St. Matthew’s gospel tells us that upon entering Jerusalem to “Hosannas” and palm branches, Jesus then went and cleansed the temple (cf. Mt. 21:12-14).  He drove out all those who bought and sold things in the temple.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold sacrificial animals.  By this cleansing, Jesus disrupted the standard practices of temple sacrifice.  This can be considered a clear sign that he is bringing an end to the Jewish sacrificial system (cf. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, Mutual Enrichment blog, 8 April 2017).  He does this in preparation for the new sacrifice and the new covenant he will institute just days later at the Last Supper.

Sacrifice will not make sense to us if we don’t acknowledge our sins.  Being unaware of our sins will begin to dull our sense of what we do here.  I am convinced that in part, the idea that the Mass is primarily a meal or a communal gathering, erroneous notions that have gained popularity in the last several decades, is directly related to the decrease over the same time period in the practice of frequent confession among Catholics.  When we don’t confess sin and repent of it regularly we become less aware of its reality.  When we become less aware of the reality of our sins then we will also begin to fail to appreciate sacrifice.  When we fail to appreciate sacrifice, we no longer see the Holy Mass for what it is.  Instead of seeing that the Lord instituted a new and perfect sacrifice as a sin offering for our salvation, we begin to focus almost exclusively on the idea that we simply gather to re-enact a holy meal.  But notice that not even that first Holy Thursday, not even the Last Supper, was primarily focused on the goal of a faith meal.  Rather, the Last Supper was focused on the following day, the sacrifice of the Cross.  For at that supper, having brought an end to the old sacrificial system, Jesus presented his sacrifice in sacramental form and promised that its value would remain for all time.  And to ensure that his disciples of every time and place could access the power of this one saving sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus commanded: Do this in memory of me.  St. Paul clearly understood this emphasis on sacrifice over meal for he writes: “For as often as you [do this] you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).  Sacrifice!  Having this proper understanding, the understanding the Church has maintained since ancient times, profoundly shapes how we approach the Holy Mass, how we prepare for it, what we expect from it, what we give to it, and what we expect for music, decoration, and reverence.

On Palm Sunday, St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians told us that Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself (cf. Phil. 2:6-11).  The gospel on this holy night tells us that, fully aware of what he was doing, Jesus humbled himself at the dinner by removing his outer garment and washing feet.  Jesus fulfills his emptying and humbling of self on the Holy Cross.  The constant practice of the Church makes sense then: Namely, that we first empty and humble ourselves in imitation of Jesus by confessing our sins so that we can engage with what he offers here in atonement for our sins.  We must humble ourselves by confessing sin if we hope to approach the saving sacrifice with proper disposition and a heart open to God’s saving love and grace.  Here we come to Calvary in sacramental form.  We participate in what Jesus did to save us and we proclaim: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Palm Sunday - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Passion (Palm) Sunday A

9 April 2017

We solemnly begin Holy Week with the Passion (or Palm) Sunday Mass recalling Christ’s messianic entrance into the Holy City Jerusalem.  This Mass stands out due to its special entrance.  We have a special entrance because of Jesus’ special entrance into the holy city where he fulfilled the divine plan.  We cry out, as did the people present at that event, “Hosanna,” which means, “Grant salvation!”  Given that these days commemorate the most climactic moments of what Jesus did to save us I want to issue a direct encouragement and invitation to set aside these holy days in order to increase prayer and sacrifice, and to make every effort to attend the Sacred Triduum on the nights of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

At the very heart and center of Jesus’ life and mission is what St. Paul wrote in the second reading, that Jesus emptied himself and humbled himself.  Why would God the Son empty and humble himself?  Why is that the heart and center of the life and mission of the God-man Jesus Christ?  The second reading began as follows: “Christ Jesus…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.”  Those words take us right back to the Garden of Eden.  In other words, they take us right back to the heart and center of the problem, to the original problem, the original sin.  What happened in that garden that became the central problem leading to what we reverence this week about Jesus?  In the garden man listened to the prompting of the devil and joined in his rebellion against God.  There, by disobeying God’s command and taking and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were grasping at equality with God.  The words of the devil reveal the heart and center of the problem.  Referring to eating from the forbidden tree the devil said to Eve: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gn. 3:5).  Grasping at things for ourselves.  Holding on to what we can get selfishly for ourselves.  Using others and things around us for our own selfish purposes.  We each sin in this way.  This pattern of behavior is the ripple effect from the garden.  Jesus’ emptying and humbling of himself is the antidote to this trend.

Do you ever dwell upon what it is that saves you?  It is the saving action, the saving work of Jesus by which, in his great love for you, he suffers, dies, is buried, resurrects, and ascends back to the Father!  This week we mark especially the historical reality of these saving actions and we experience their power now.  And in truth the Church continues to experience in the now, and each day throughout the year, the saving reality of these events at each and every Sacred Liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass.  What saves us is not merely a collection of teaching to accept.  What saves us is not merely following a moral code.  No, what saves us is Jesus Christ and his saving deed in suffering, dying, and rising again!  And thus, the Church leads us in salvation not merely with holy teaching and not merely with moral guidance but by participation in sacred action here.  We need to avoid two opposite poles in our approach to following Jesus.  (1) The Christian religion should not be approached as primarily some system of dogmatic truths to be accepted and of moral commands to be followed.  Both of these, of course, intellectual structure and moral law belong to and are elements of being a Christian.  But they don’t exhaust what it means.  (2) At the other pole, “Still less is Christianity a matter of [mere] religious sentiment, a more or less emotionally toned attitude towards [some vague notion of] ‘The divine’, which binds itself to no dogmatic or moral system whatever” (Casel, The Mystery of Christian Worship, p.9).  Both of these should be avoided.  St. Paul speaks of Christianity as “a mystery,” and what he means by that is primarily the work or action of God’s by which He fulfills His saving plan, which we experience and in which we participate in sacred worship.  It is the acts of Jesus Christ that save us.  It is these acts we recall most solemnly this week but, in truth, at each Holy Mass.  It is these acts that I hope you will want to participate in this week and at least each Sunday and holy day so that you may experience the emptying and the humbling of Jesus by which he undoes the selfish, sinful grasping that still marks our lives.

3rd Sunday of Lent - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dominica III in Quadragesima A

19 March 2017

“The issue is not the issue.”  It’s a phrase that means what people often present as their issue, their complaint, or the thing that has them stirred up, is often a surface matter and can be the “appetizer,” if you will, to the deeper thing that is really going on with them.  I first heard this phrase used in seminary days.  When we seminarians would bring concerns or problems to our formators they might utter that phrase.  And we hated it!  We thought it was psycho-babble, nonsense, and a smokescreen for dismissing our concerns.  But now years later, having had more experiences of human dynamics, I can say there is at least some truth to this notion: The issue is not the issue.

The first reading from Exodus begins by showing us that God’s people wandering in the desert were grumbling because the issue was their thirst and their need for water.  But notice the words of the people seem to betray something more than physical thirst and they hint at a deeper issue.  They grumble: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?”  The final grumbling question recorded in this first reading makes it even more clear that a deeper concern is really the issue.  The people reveal their fear and their lack of trust in God in the midst of the unknown, harsh realities of the desert by asking: “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  Their thirst seems to be less about literal water and more about a spiritual matter – is God really with us?  They long – in that sense, they “thirst” – for security.  They thirst to know that their desert hardships are worth it.  They thirst for reassurance that if they are faithful to God then things will be better than they were in Egypt.

In the gospel, the water really being focused on is not the physical water in the well, but the living water Jesus offers.  A deeper meaning of longing and desire, and in that sense “thirst,” seems to be throughout this passage.  This gospel is one of my favorites because I think the location at a well makes for an incredibly beautiful back story that puts a special emphasis on Jesus’ thirst.  I suggest that while Jesus was truly thirsty from his journey (and hungry too, as the account makes clear), the point of the story is not at all that Jesus was waiting to drink literal water.  Rather, Jesus is at Jacob’s well waiting for the Samaritan woman.  And there is something beautiful about this reference to Jacob.  When you read about Jacob in the Book of Genesis (cf. Gn. 29) you discover that it was at a well that Jacob first laid eyes upon Rachel, whom he would one day marry.  His heart was moved to fall in love with her and to desire to commit his life to her.  The well, in other words, is a place of deep love, the fulfillment of deep longing and not merely a deep cistern of physical water.  Thus, in my mind, that Jesus places himself at Jacob’s well sets a rich backdrop here.  Jesus is not primarily thirsting for water, but his Sacred Heart is thirsting that his divine love be received and reciprocated.  The Samaritan woman comes because of need for physical water.  Yet, she has deeper needs too.  The issue is not the issue.  When she encounters Jesus and his care and love for her, you see, she leaves her water jar behind – she’s no longer motivated strictly by physical thirst once she encounters living water and Jesus’ love for her.  And I think that is the rich, beautiful, and moving message for us.  Jesus knows you and loves you, no matter what is in your background, even if you are now, or have been, a bitter enemy (like Samaritans were to Jews).  Jesus knows you and loves you, no matter what is in your background, even if now or in the past you have some rocky moral history needing to be addressed (like the woman had multiple husbands).  Jesus knows you and loves you, no matter what is in your background, even if now or in the past you worship what you do not understand or do not yet worship God rightly in Spirt and truth (like Jesus said of Samaritans).  Jesus thirsts to save you and to have you receive his love.  That is a water that will fulfill you, if you will drink it.

In his divine love, Jesus is already at the well waiting for you.  Thus, what is the well in your life?  What are those things, those struggles, those places of emptiness, those places of fear, those places of feeling unloved or abandoned, – those deeper issues – those “wells” that you avoid until your deeper thirst can no longer go unanswered?  What are those places that, like a well, are a chore to go to, but something you can’t avoid forever?  Jesus is already there and he is already loving you.  Have confidence that Jesus is already waiting at the deeper issues of your life and that his love is already being poured out for you.  St. Paul in the second reading said, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”  He’s waiting for you at the well.  He’s hoping you will recognize who he is and so ask him not for literal water, but for living water.  And having taken a drink of his love for you, Jesus is hoping that you too, like the Samaritan woman, will go and bring others to the well to meet him so they too may say for themselves: “This is truly the savior of the world.”

Whatever our needs and thirsts are, this gospel teaches us that Jesus is first thirsting for us.  From the Cross, as if a reminder of this lesson, Jesus says, “I thirst.”  The Cross is like the deepest well at which Jesus waits for us.  He desires us.  He knows our deeper thirst and our need for living water in our relationship with him.  At the well of the Church, of the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass and confession, and at the well of our personal prayer daily we encounter Jesus and his divine love, waiting, already thirsting for us.  Look upon a crucifix, look upon the Blessed Sacrament when It is displayed before us, know the gift of God, and hear Jesus say, “I thirst.”  And then give him a drink of your faith and your love!

 

Ash Wednesday - Fr. Hamilton

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ash Wednesday

1 March 2017

Today we have begun the holy season of renewal known as Lent.  The most distinctive element of today is the ashes.  The ashes we use are a sign of our origin in that we recall from the Book of Genesis that man was made from the dust of the earth and the breath of life was breathed into him (cf. Gen. 2:7).  The ashes we use are also a sign of our mortality for, though God did not intend us to die, mankind’s sin and the Fall brought about death by which we return to dust.  With good reason then do the words that are said with the imposition of ashes remind us of our creation and our destiny: “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”  The ashes remind us of our origin and our mortality.  They remind us that we will each face an end and, in faith, we believe we will face the Judge.  And so a natural question ought to arise within us: Where are we going?   Where are you going?  Where am I going?

Mindful of our need to ponder our destiny in this life and in the next life, the collect of this Holy Mass is particularly rich in imagery.  I would like to read that collect again and have you listen to its images: “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.”  The older traditional prayer makes this image in some ways even more strong and explicit.  It says: “Grant us, Lord, the grace to begin the Christian’s war of defense with holy fasts” (Prayer after the distribution of ashes, 1962 Roman Missal).

As we begin Lent we are reminded that we are on a campaign.  Truthfully, we should never forget that our entire life is such a campaign.  The image is intentionally militaristic.  Like an army, we are going on a journey in Lent and we are going into battle to reclaim lost territory.  We are battling foreign powers, spiritual evils, to regain territory that belongs to God and His kingdom, namely our very selves, our souls.  This battle of Lent aims to reclaim what rightfully belongs to God.  We engage in battle so that obstacles to life with God can be removed.  And we must be clear, since we have come to faith and have been baptized, we are battling powers that desire to take us from God’s Kingdom.  The collect clearly tells us we are battling spirits of evil.  They are real and they are all around us.  They seek to pull us away from God’s Kingdom.

This battle, which we intensify in Lent, calls us to be armed with weapons of self-restraint.  Our weapons are not literal guns or knives or bombs but spiritual practices, self-restraint.  Our weapons are those recommended practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as well as other penances, self-denial, and confession.  These spiritual things are weapons because the battlefield is not literally some place or geographical location.  Rather, the battleground is primarily internal in each of us.  The battlefield is the critical question we each must answer with words and actions: Whom will you serve?  Will you serve God and His Kingdom?  Or will you serve Satan and his kingdom of darkness?

We must be clear that our Lenten efforts are first, foremost, and really only about spiritual growth and spiritual improvement.  I say this because one sometimes hears the comment that Lent and its fasting is a good excuse for a diet.  I’m not saying it wouldn’t be good to engage in some dieting.  But that is not our Lenten focus.  Our spiritual battlefield and our weapons of self-restraint are to renew our life with Jesus and help us choose him and his kingdom.  Our focus is not physical self-improvement, improving the way we look.  If that were our focus then the gospel words would be our indictment: You have received your reward.  No, our focus is the soul and spiritual improvement.  If we make our Lenten practices about our body and how we look then we have subtly and at the outset twisted the focus and are not prepared for the campaign we must engage in.

Whom will you serve?  This is the battlefield of Lent and truly the battlefield for each day of Christian living.  Turn to the proven spiritual weapons of self-restraint.  We engage in this battle because we are encouraged by the mercy and compassion of God that as we embark on this campaign of self-restraint and interior work our Father “who sees what is hidden will repay you!”