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Homilies


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!”

Midnight Mass - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Nativitas D.N.I.C.

Mass at Night

25 December 2016

The mysterious truth of God’s taking on human flesh (the Incarnation) and the related mystery of God’s birth in time, which we observe at Christmas, is the stuff of stark and surprising contrasts.  Almighty God, Who cannot be contained, takes up dwelling in a virgin’s womb.  The God of majesty limits Himself to human flesh and is born in the poverty of a cave-stable.  The God Who gives life and all good things, including the bounty of the earth, is Himself placed where food is kept, a manger that passes for a crib.  The Prophet Isaiah communicates some of this stark contrast.  Listen again to what he highlights.  People who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  For those who live in gloom light has shone and there is abundant joy and great rejoicing.  What burdened these people has been smashed and used for fuel.

I wonder if observing Christmas we might heed the message and actually begin to expect God to do unexpected things… unexpected things for you… unexpected things where you think Him least likely to be in your life?  My work as a priest permits me to work in an atmosphere of faith and of holy things.  In fact, my very hands – these hands of a sinner – daily touch holy things in the Sacraments, most especially the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  Considering that, I feel sort of sorry when I consider the lives, the jobs, and the livelihood of the people I serve.  Now how is that for an attention grabber?!  Stay with me.  Don’t walk out just yet; this isn’t going where you think.

Some of you have lives and jobs where it would seem that God is absent and has little – dare you be tempted to think nothing? – to do with your livelihood.  Your work is a place that it seems unlikely God would be in any meaningful way.   By way of example, some people have government jobs.  God’s activity doesn’t intersect there, does it?  Maybe some of you are young, just starting families, and very unsure of the future as you struggle to make ends meet.  If God is even there in the hustle and bustle, it sure seems unclear what He may be doing.  Maybe some of you work in agriculture and livestock.  What a mess!  These and so many others are examples of surroundings that we may easily and uncritically assume don’t have much use for God.  But then the climactic moment of God’s promised coming into human history, captured in the familiar gospel account of this Holy Mass, should make us think otherwise.  Did you let yourself take notice in the gospel of work and livelihoods where it may seem hard to find God, but which in fact His birth and presence impacted?  Government workers?  Ceasar Agustus and Quirinius.  Young families caught in hectic and uncertain futures?  Wasn’t the gospel about the newlyweds Joseph and Mary caught in some unfortunate hassle right as a baby is coming?  Agricultural and livestock workers?  Shepherds were in a field minding their business when the first Christmas homily was proclaimed by angels with good news!

Too often we operate in the notion that God is always distant.  He is totally Other, yes, but He is also the God Who comes close to us!  Will we let Him do that for us?  In our way of viewing things we often see fragility and weakness (struggles, sin, shame) as signs that we are no good for God.  We see such things as a deficit void of possibility, void of grace.  But God sees it as a place where, in stark contrast to our viewpoint, He can be particularly present and active!  This is a potent message of Christmas because, like it or not, we are not in complete control of everything around us and each of us struggles with some fear and sin where we are not even in complete command of ourselves.  Thus, disciples on their way to conversion and holiness need to acknowledge and admit weakness and fragility because it gives us an indication of where God wants to be for us.  Consider at this very moment the things in your own life which you know are not consistent with life in Jesus.  Call to mind right now, just like you should do in regular and frequent confession, those things you have to admit are ongoing struggles, things that have burdened you for a long time.  Call to mind the place where you hear the bad news that you are a failure and God is not there.  Where you and I are weak and where we admit it (in prayer and in confession) God is ready to do something new.  The good news of Christmas powerfully tells us that rather than resist God’s possibility in our lives, we should expect that our fragility is a unique place where He can come and stand in stark contrast to our expectations.  By no means do we dismiss or make excuses for our weakness, our fragility, our sin and shame – the places of our darkness and gloom.  But we do identify them and admit them because Christmas tells us that is our stable, that is our manger, and God is coming right there for you!  I proclaim to you good news of great joy: today a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord!

Immaculate Conception - Fr. Hamilton

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

8 December 2016

Observing the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary we stand at the threshold of our salvation, because we celebrate the gift of God to Mary, the one He chose to be the mother of our Savior.  As we celebrate today how she was conceived free from all stain of sin in her mother’s womb, the womb of St. Ann, we celebrate that God was making good on His promise to save mankind.  With this in mind it is appropriate that we hear in this Holy Mass from the Book of Genesis.  We hear God’s words after the fall of Adam and Eve, in that sin we call “original.”  We hear of God’s plan to save mankind after sin had entered the garden of goodness God had made for His creation.

In the selection from Genesis we hear what theologians like to call the protoevangelion.  That comes from Greek and refers to the first proclamation of the Good News, the first proclamation of the gospel, that God has a plan to save us.  That first proclamation is verse 15 which has God speaking to Satan, the serpent, and saying: “I will put enmity [division, hatred, adversarial relationship] between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he [the offspring of the woman] will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  God speaks His plan to undo the sin and disorder that Satan proposed and introduced to Adam and Eve.  God proclaims that the offspring of the woman will strike a head blow, that is a mortal blow, to the serpent.  The fulfillment of this good news for salvation is finally found in the Cross of Jesus, in his sacrifice of his life for our salvation.  Why is the Cross of Jesus that mortal, head, blow to the serpent and his cunning?  It’s because disobedience is at the heart of Satan’s relationship with God and Satan’s plan to bring ruin to God’s goodness.  Satan is that angel who fell because he would not serve God in obedience.  Disobedience is at the center of what Satan introduced in the garden and disobedience remains at the heart of our sins, for which we are personally responsible.  That’s why the Cross of Jesus is the fulfillment of this first announcement of the gospel: because the Cross is fundamentally about obedience.  God the Son, takes on our flesh, and he comes to do the Father’s will.  In obedience Jesus accepts the Cross and the punishment for our sins.  The obedience of the Cross undoes the disobedience inspired by Satan.

I’d like you to think about the value of the Cross in order to understand our faith in Mary’s preservation from sin in her immaculate conception.  The sacrificial event of Jesus’ death on the Cross is what saves us.  It is re-presented here at the Holy Mass and that’s why the Mass is so important to our faith and our entrance into Heaven because it places us in contact with the sacrificial value of the Cross.  I’m willing to bet that most everyone here believes the Cross is what saves us, even though it happened a few thousand years before any of us was ever thought of, or ever lived and walked the earth.  In other words, I bet most everyone here believes that God the Father saw the value of Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice on the Cross and applied the merit, the value, of that sacrifice, to people who did not live at the time and in the place where it happened.  God sees the value and the merit of the Cross and I bet you believe that its value moves forward in time and is applied to you and to me a few thousand years later.  Here is what I’d like you to consider: If you believe the value of Jesus’ sacrifice can apply to you thousands of year later, can you believe and accept that God could see the value of the Cross and apply its value before it happened?  If its value could move forward in time to us, can God permit its value to go backward in time?  That is basically what we are saying in faith about Mary’s immaculate conception.  We are saying that God Who exists outside of time and Who sees and knows all things, could see the value of what His Son would accomplish on the Cross and He applied that value to Mary from the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.  Thus, God gave Mary the gift of saving her from the first moment of her life.  It’s not that she did not need salvation, no!  God saved her from the first moment of her life by the value of the sacrifice of Jesus which the Father could foresee.

Why would it be important for God to have a plan to do this for the mother of our Savior?  If God’s plan was to send His Son in the flesh to be born among us, in time, in the normal course of human birth, then a human being, having inherited a fallen nature due to original sin, could not do anything but pass on fallen, sinful human flesh to Jesus.  But the Book of Revelation tells us that nothing unholy can be in God’s presence.  Much less together with Him.  God, the all-holy One, cannot coexist with sin.  It’s like oil and water; they don’t go together.  So, God’s preserving Mary from sin from the first moment of her life means she was being prepared for the role He chose for her in salvation: to give human flesh to the Son.  And by preserving her from sin, God the Father was making it possible to pass on to Jesus the pure flesh that could coexist with Him.  Mary’s being preserved from sin means she could provide for Jesus sinless human flesh in which to take up dwelling, in order to come to save us.

Thus the collect of this Holy Mass speaks well of what we believe in this aspect of our faith.  Listen to it again carefully: “O God, who…prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.”

We celebrate in this solemnity the special gift of God to Mary.  A gift that was part of His plan, first announced in Genesis, to deal a mortal blow to Satan and the harm he had done to God’s desire for us to have Heaven.  Since obedience was the undoing of Satan’s disobedience, then obedience to God must be fostered in our Christian living.  And this is why Mary is for us such a great example and intercessor.  She is the one who said “yes” to God’s plan.  We heard of that obedience in the gospel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  God has a desire for us to live in communion with Him now and forever in Heaven.  He has fulfilled His plan in Jesus’s sacrifice.  Today we celebrate the role He prepared Mary to occupy to bring us that Savior.  Looking to Mary and counting on her prayers for us we can walk confidently toward God trusting that by sincerely doing away with sin, by confessing it, and seeking to observe greater obedience to God now, we will be prepared one day to enjoy the fullness of obedience’s reward in eternal life in Heaven.

Second Sunday of Advent - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Dominica II Adventus A

4 December 2016

Once at about the age of seven I was outside with some neighborhood buddies.  There was just enough wind that day that it caught a small piece of paper we were arguing over.  As the wind took the paper away from us, that was all that was needed to start an impromptu competition between me and another boy.  We both took off running after it to see who could win and who could get to the paper first.  Focused more on the paper than on the ground before my feet I tripped, slammed into the sidewalk, and ended up losing not only the paper but, as I soon discovered, an entire fingernail!  It was not a good day in the neighborhood.  And it was a stupid thing to race after.  I thought about that as I walked home preparing to explain to Mom and Dad what had happened.  At this time of year there is lots of rushing and running around: decorating, parties, shopping, traveling.  The collects, that is the prayer at the beginning of Mass, for the first and second Sundays of Advent seem to admit or capture this hectic reality.  But of course, the Church’s prayer captures and calls us to be busy, not about worldly matters, but about running the race of faith, running to Christ, and rushing to advance finally to eternal life.  Last Sunday’s collect prayed: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”  Today’s collect prayed: “Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son.”

Are we disciples marked by holy running and rushing about for the faith and righteous deeds?  Or is our running and rushing about focused mostly, or maybe only, on sales, deals, and secular affairs?  We can be about things IN the world, provided we bring Christ to those things.  But we should not be marked as people exclusively OF the world.  And so a good point of reflection to make sure we are only IN the world and not OF the world is to take honest, sober stock of what hinders us from being true disciples.  The preaching of St. John the Baptist still calls to us today to consider whether we give more effort to running to things of this world than we do to Christ.  So what hinders you from rushing to Christ?

The word in our English translation of the collect that refers to things that “hinder” our haste to meet Christ is, in the original Latin, the word “impede.”  “Impede” in Latin is constructed from the word for “foot,” from which we get words like “pedestrian” or “bipedal.”  The prayer of the Church’s faith acknowledges that we should be rushing to meet Christ but that we must be on guard about those things that are obstacles, that entangle and ensnare our feet, that impede us. 

Sometimes we run foolishly, as I did that day as a boy.  Unaware of what can trip up our feet we risk physical injury.  This serves as an image for our running in faith.  If we are not aware of obstacles and if we don’t seek to remove them from our lives we can risk eternal injury when such an impeded soul will rush headlong to hell instead of God’s desire for it to have Heaven.  A person who follows worldly wisdom consumes his time with things that do not achieve or merit salvation.  A person who is busy about rushing toward Christ accomplishes deeds of faith, the righteous deeds, or good fruits of which St. John preached, that merit salvation when Christ comes again.

When we honestly reflect upon how we spend our time, if we give more effort to worldly pursuits then, it is safe to say, we have obstacles at our feet.  If we worship the things the world worships: honor, power, money, pleasure, sex, and possessions; then we are failing to worship God in first place and we will find ourselves impeded in running to Christ.  If we can always be available to talk to friends, spend time on the phone, surf the internet, and use social media, but we can’t seem to find time to speak and to listen to God then we will likely get tripped up in running the straight path to the Lord.  If we have a type of default setting that accepts worldly rhetoric about the definition of marriage, the meaning of the body, and the dignity of human life, more easily or more readily than we accept Christ’s wisdom and teaching then we can be sure that, as the collect says, “earthly undertakings” are hindering our path to Christ and that we need to learn “heavenly wisdom [in order to] gain us admittance to [Christ’s] company” (Collect, Second Sunday of Advent).

Today’s gospel, reporting the preaching of St. John the Baptist, gives us one way to remove obstacles that hinder us: namely, repentance.  In talking about repentance I like to highlight and distill for people a very clear message of the Bible.  When you read the Bible from start to finish you find over and over again the clear message of repentance.  All the prophets speak of turning from sin and reforming one’s life in readiness for the coming day of the Lord.  St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, comes with a wild appearance and with a radical call to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  With all that preceded in the Old Testament can we act surprised when Jesus appears publicly and begins preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand?”  Jesus established his Church and sent out his apostles to do his work and so, can we act surprised or deaf when those apostles and the Church still today preach that people should repent (Mk. 6:12)?  With such a clear biblical call, repentance must be at the very heart and center of our lives as Christians.  Another way to say this is, how can someone who follows Jesus NOT be someone who repents?!  Can someone who doesn’t repent even be a Christian disciple in any true way, given the preponderance of the biblical call to repent?  In Advent we hear greater emphasis on what should be our regular practice of repentance.  For Catholics that regular practice is sacramentalized by Christ in confession.  Confession is the opportunity to check the ground around our feet and to locate the obstacles so that Christ can remove them and heal them.  Confession is our response to the invitation of Jesus to make him room in our lives: to identify our sins and to name them honestly.  By this we use our freedom to give to Jesus a direct invitation to come to those places where we are hindered and impeded and where we need him to come to fuller birth in us.  Each and every week in our parish we have four days of confessions offered.  By making use of these opportunities in Advent and each month we identify where we need the Lord to come to us and we cry out in the words of that beautiful Advent hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel!

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dominica XXXIII per Annum C

13 November 2016

We are currently in the final weeks of the Church’s liturgical year.  Toward the end of each liturgical year the selections at Holy Mass from Sacred Scripture take on strong apocalyptic tones.  That is, we hear the inspired Word of God speak to us about the end times, the catastrophic destruction of the world as Jesus returns again to fully usher in God’s Kingdom.  At Jesus’ first coming he issued an invitation to all mankind that we, each man and woman, would choose to use our freedom to respond to him and to form our lives in such a way that we advance toward eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.  At Jesus’ second coming, the reckoning of whether we truly accepted that invitation will be made and the result of our individual choice will be ratified by Jesus such that we rise to an eternity of blessing in Heaven or an eternity of condemnation in Hell.  This belief is captured well in the brief first reading describing the coming Day of the Lord, which will come “blazing like an oven” burning up “the proud and all evildoers.”  That Day will be their complete destruction, “leaving them neither root nor branch.”  But for those who live in harmony with God’s invitation and who have reverential fear of His Name, that blaze will be “the sun of justice with…healing rays.”

The gospel employs the same apocalyptic imagery.  People were commenting on the ornate beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was a strong, sturdy, and beautiful structure of immense importance to the religious and national identity of the Jews.  It was the heart of their culture, since the heart or core of any culture is evident in the root word “cult.”  “Cult,” used in its positive sense, simply means an ordered system of religious devotion or worship; with that in mind, we can see that the core of any culture is what it focuses on as its object of worship, whether said culture wants to admit that is its god or not.  The core of any culture is its god.  The people in the gospel focused on the external symbol of their cult, the temple building itself.  Finding it structurally sound and beautifully adorned they could not imagine that it could possibly be destroyed.  But while focusing on the external symbol of the cult, they were ignoring the internal reality of the temple they themselves were to be with God.  That reality was crumbling and soon, says Jesus, the building itself would also crumble.

Divisions even among family members because of belief in Jesus accompanied by earthquakes, disorder, insurrections, wars and more are the signs of the end.  With these things in mind, and hoping I don’t cause anyone too much whiplash, I want to turn our gaze from Jerusalem and place it on our country, especially in light of the events of this past week.  After a very disappointing campaign season, we had legitimate elections.  But since then we have had several protests and even riots around the country. We can have sympathy with those who feel alienated, hurt, and worried by the tenor of the now concluded campaigns.  I have heard stories in these past days of local schools having to give attention to students who are honestly worried that they are going to come home and find their parents deported.  There are people who feel respect for the dignity of women and different races are at risk.  There are fears that the negative tenor of the campaign season will find its way into public policy.  I don’t pretend to know how valid such fears are, but perhaps we can sympathize that they may be real fears of those around us.  Perhaps we can agree that there is something, I would say, perverse about fellow citizens and fellow human beings in our melting pot who are laboring under such fears.  To be clear, peaceful protestors have every right to demonstrate.  But there is a brand of radical protest going on that deserves reflection, because of what it says about American culture.

I don’t watch any television, but I have been watching these past few days to see what is going on.  Radical, lawless protestors, at least on the channels I have watched, when interviewed about their protest, often highlight mostly self-interest, and self-referential reasons for their actions.  In other words, you don’t hear altruistic reasons or motivations for promoting the common good.  Despite legitimate elections, the mantra “Not my president” captures well the oddity of a cooperative group of radical individualists placing themselves above the law.  I am sure for some listening to me it may seem I am treading into that dangerous arena of politics from the pulpit.  But I want to comment on this for what it says not about politics, but about American culture at the present moment.  That is a topic worthy of homily time.  And here is the crux: What is the cult of American culture?  What is that core belief of the god we worship that explains what we see going on in our present culture?  Our society is becoming more and more radically secularist.  The cult of worship owed to God and of related religious values has been pushed to the margins.  The contributions of our faith and our ability to be a Catholic voice in the public square are still threatened.  Perhaps we have a momentary reprieve with a new administration, but we would be fools to let down our guard.  You see, when the cult owed to the true God is eradicated from society, you aren’t simply left with a vacuum, a space void of worship.  Rather, another god takes its place because we are inherently religious beings.  We will find something to worship.  These radical protests reveal, I think, that the cult of American culture has become more and more the cult of the self.  Our culture has become self-referential, despite laws and obligations we actually have to others around us, because our cult is the worship of self and self-determination.  We have so accepted the primacy of self-determination, that we have enshrined in law that a child in the womb does not have a right to life if another person determines so.  We have so accepted the primacy of self-determination, that we now act as if we speak intelligently when we say that not even a person’s actual physical body determines his or her sex.  What I see going on around us are signs that American culture worships the god of self-determination and the result is that nothing and no one can require or oblige the self of anything it does not want to give.  This attitude does not lead to good morality or to “a more perfect Union” for these United States of America.

This is more than merely political; this is moral and that’s why I’m talking about it in a homily.  We Americans labor under a particular echo, I would say, of manifest destiny that makes us think we are without limits, that we are invincible, perhaps like the attitude towards the temple of those in the gospel.  This is a homily topic because it is time for us to examine what we worship.  It is time to identify the cult that drives our behavior.  Is it the true God?  Do we admit the primacy of worship owed to God in personal prayer and at Holy Mass each Sunday and holy day?  It is time for each of us to examine our lives before the Day of the Lord arrives.  Do we conform our ways to the moral laws and commands of Jesus?  Or do we place ourselves at the center and expect Jesus to accept our self-determined morality?  I’m saying all this most especially because we are approaching the annual solemnity of Christ the King.  It is time for us to respond to Jesus’ invitation to life with him.  It is time to place him first in our daily living, in our moral choices, including our voting.  We need to identify who our king is because if it is not Christ, then not only is our Christian contribution to society at risk but so is our salvation and the salvation of those around us who desperately need our Christian testimony.  Like the temple focus in the gospel, we can focus on all the externals we like, but if we are not internally dedicated to Christ the King and to his reign then we are empty, crumbling buildings.  Jesus says that we are to give him testimony.  How will that happen if we allow ourselves to be swept along with those who worship the god of the self?

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Hamilton

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dominica XXX per Annum C

23 October 2016

Growing up in an atmosphere of faith and religion I have always known prayer to be important.  But as an adult I am more personally convinced than ever that personal prayer is the most important thing “we do.”  In fact, talking about prayer is a bit complicated because by saying that it is something “we do” I am already running the risk of giving bad teaching.

I hope I don’t inspire anxiety in anyone with this statement but the gospel shows us that there is a wrong way to pray, and it comes by way of the Pharisee.  The gospel words capture how wrongly-directed is the Pharisee’s “prayer” and the wording is rather comical: “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself.”  Having begun with himself it is no surprise that the prayer veers more and more off course.  Notice how many times in the brief verses the man refers to himself and his activity: “I am not like the rest;” “I fast;” “I pay tithes.”  Prayer that is right and just is an I-Thou (an I and You [God]) relationship.  But prayer that is more about what we do, our activity, full of I, I, I can have poor results.  The tax collector gives us an example of right prayer in that his words refer more to what God does: Standing at a distance he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  Perhaps you are already noticing in your own prayer some wrong approaches, more of a focus on yourself and on what you do in prayer, on your plans, than on God and on what He does.  Don’t worry and don’t be anxious.  Every one of us, me included, has to constantly renew this lesson on prayer in himself.  If it makes you feel better I’ll share this experience from my recent retreat.  I had an 88-year old monsignor as my spiritual director for the retreat.  It was like being with an experienced, no nonsense soldier.  And it was great for the spiritual battle of a retreat.  For several days I was having trouble noticing what God was doing and I was getting impatient that my hopes and my plans for the retreat were not coming to pass.  I was meeting with the monsignor and I suppose I must have been complaining for some time.  Suddenly he leaned toward me and – as only an 88-year old monsignor can get away with – he stopped me using some language I can’t repeat!  What I can share is this.  He said to me: “Did you ever stop to think that maybe this is God’s retreat and perhaps you ought to just let Him do whatever He wants?  I’ve been listening and counting.  You’ve said “I” seventeen times.”  After some stunned silence I started speaking again.  He jumped in: “That’s eighteen!”  So there are wrong ways to pray.  And don’t give up hope if you need to reform the way you pray.  All of us do and it is a life’s work.

We hear so many bad stories about the world and even within the Church that leave us scratching our heads, wondering: How did it come to this?  How is there such ignorance about Jesus and his teachings?  How can some people claiming to be catholic support abortion or ignore clear immorality in their lives?  How did it come that families are so under attack and there are crises in priestly and religious vocations?  I am convinced more and more that it all comes down to a crisis of faith fueled by poor attention to personal prayer.  Some years ago I came across an article on prayer, much of which is guiding my words today.  Acknowledging the problems in the world and in the Church the author stated: “Either we are not praying correctly or we have stopped praying” (Fr. Armand M. Nigro, S.J., “Prayer: A Personal Response to God’s Presence” http://www.leonce.com/manresa/prayer.htm).

Prayer is a personal response to God’s love and to the fact that He is first and already present to us before we even acknowledge Him.  The author of that article wrote: “Either you and I are more important than God or God is more important than we are.  The answer is obvious, isn’t it?  He is more important than we are” (Nigro).  This is a critically important truth that must inform the way we pray because if prayer becomes too self-centered, even when focused on good and holy desires, like mine for my retreat, if the focus is “I, me, or my, we are going to be in difficulty” (Nigro).  A priest once told me that the foundation of the spiritual life of any person can be said to be the simple verse from St. John’s letter highlighting the primacy of God’s action: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).  The foundation of our spiritual life is that God acts first.  God takes the initiative.  God first loves us.  God first opens the way to relationship with Him.  You see, deep prayer is not primarily about what we do, about our plans, about our petitions, about our “prayers.”  Rather, it is the personal God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who first makes Himself present to us.  “Prayer is our awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence. It is what God does to us, rather than anything we do” (Nigro).

With this in mind I want to share three aspects of prayer to keep in mind.  Whether you are praying in silence, using the Scriptures for contemplation, or reciting prayers I encourage you to begin any personal prayer period with a time of preparation that involves these three steps.

1)     Be aware and call to mind that God is already present to you.  Put the focus on God and on His action.  Acknowledge Him by saying something like: “You God, my Father are here.  You create me and You have boundless love for me.  You, God the Son, Jesus Christ, have united me to yourself and you died to save me.  You God the Holy Spirit, the bond of love between the Father and the Son, You dwell within me as in a temple.  Help me to be aware of you.  And Holy Mary intercede for me, and turn my gaze to where the Trinity is already gazing upon me.”  Speak to God directly.  Prayer is a personal I-You relationship.  Do not refer to God as He or Him but as You.

2)     Having acknowledged God’s presence and what He does for us, the only decent response is to say “thank you.”  Gratitude is an essential step in praying rightly because when we express thanks that means we are aware of receiving something from another.  Gratitude highlights that before God we can only be in a posture of receptivity to the love and life He showers upon us.  Too often in prayer we take charge and try to make sure we accomplish something so that we don’t – God forbid! – “waste time.”  But gratitude reminds us that we are in need and that prayer is not first about what we can do or are doing.  Rather, it is to acknowledge with a “thank you” what God is doing for us in a loving and personal way.

3)     We are not inanimate objects or things.  One does not have a true relationship with things.  Good prayer is a relationship, the I-Thou meeting with God.  So, once we are aware of God’s first being present to us and once we thank Him, the third step for prayer is our personal response to God by which we say to Him: I love You.  Try saying that to God in your prayer.  I love You, Heavenly Father.  I love You, Jesus.  I love You, Holy Spirit.  Here we express our trust in a personal God.  We admit our total dependence upon Him.

There are many ways to pray.  I am not knocking any one form.  We can meditate with the Scriptures, a very privileged form of prayer.  We can speak from our own hearts out loud or in silence.  We can say recited prayers.  We can ask God for things in petition.  Whatever form we normally use it is good advice to say we need to be willing to try some other reliable forms too.  Whatever form we use we should never skip the three aspects of personal prayer of starting with acknowledging God’s presence, saying thank you, and speaking personally of our love in response.  With struggle and effort these three steps will work and will bear fruit in the life of prayer God desires to have with us.  We don’t want to remain in prayer that is more about what we are doing.  Rather we want to model the prayer of the tax collector, whose humility and posture of receptivity to what God does resulted in his going home justified.

 

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Maloney

Sunday, September 25, 2016

26th Sunday Ordinary Time

September 25, 2016

One day a 1st grade teacher decided to give her class a break from the 3 R’s and told them to take out a piece of paper and draw anything they wanted. The teacher walked around looking at the children’s work and stopped at the desk of one young girl, a very confident young girl, and asked her what she was drawing. She said “I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher, with a little bit of condescension, said, “Oh sweetie, no one knows what God looks like.” The little girl didn’t miss a beat, kept right on drawing, and told her: “Well, they will in a few minutes.”  

We do not, in fact, know what God looks like because He is pure Spirit. But we do know what He has revealed to us. An important part of that revelation is in our gospel reading today. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus gives us a clear picture of what happens when the battle of life is over and the dust settles and the smoke clears. We experience the individual, or particular, judgment and go to the reward of heaven (with a possible pit stop in purgatory) or the punishment of hell.  The rich man was not condemned for his wealth but for his selfishness. Lazarus was in need, right in front him, and he did nothing. The lesson from this parable is a warning that excessive concern for the things of this world leads to a neglect of God and neighbor, and we won’t see the needs around us, many of them right under our nose.

One group of persons in our midst, in great need, is the unborn. They need our attention, our efforts and our prayers because they have no voice. Today kicks of the 40 Days for Life project here in Oklahoma City, from Sept 25th to Nov 3rd, focused on the Warr Acres Outpatient Services for Women facility. The project has three components: prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil, and community outreach. The purpose is to rid our city of this scourge.

Being a pro-life person doesn’t end with the unborn, but must begin with the unborn. Talking about contentious moral issues, especially the plight of the unborn, is difficult but it is necessary. Many think it is politics, but it is not, although all moral issues have a social/political dimension. I don’t speak in judgment, because I’m no better than anyone else (just ask my wife). And we know Jesus first movement to us wounded sinners is compassion, mercy and healing, not condemnation. So today, I won’t reflect on what bible says or what the Church teaches, but how we got here with the 1973 Roe vs. Wade supreme court decision legalizing abortion. We should avoid the notion that the Supreme Court has spoken, this is settled law, and the issue is over. This was a deeply flawed decision, and we know the Supreme Court is not the final arbiter of morality and often makes errors (e.g., the Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision and the women’s suffrage movement).

I’ll set up a hypothetical scenario to make a point. Imagine you are hunting deer with a friend and you see a movement, maybe a flash of brown, in the bushes and trees ahead, but you’re not sure. You wouldn’t shoot, would you? Now imagine you lift your rifle to shoot anyway. Your friend says, “Hold on, you’re not going to shoot are you? We aren’t sure that is a deer; it might be another hunter.” You ponder that and say: “OK, can you prove to me that is a hunter and not a deer?” Your friend replies: “Well no, I can’t do that, but we don’t know.” You shoot into the bushes anyway. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? This is precisely the logic used by the Supreme Court majority in the Roe vs, Wade decision. Let’s look at some key aspects of this decision.

1 - The majority cited that experts from medicine, philosophy and theology and could not find consensus on when life begins; so they wrote, “…the judiciary isn’t in a position to speculate on the answer.” At that point, if the court wasn’t certain about the presence of human life, they never should have taken the case because a decision might sanction the killing of human life.

2 - The majority acknowledged that if the unborn were persons, the case for abortion falls apart and the unborn are protected under the constitution. This is the next problem. They introduced an arbitrary distinction between ‘human being’ and ‘person.’ In any dictionary, the primary meaning of ‘person’ is ‘human being.’ There is no linguistic evidence in history that a human being should be considered anything other than a person.

3 - In looking at personhood, the majority looked only at the legal concept, i.e., is it included in the constitution, rather than the primary concepts of person, which are ontological (what a thing is, human) and ethical (how a thing should be treated).

4 - Then they looked for Supreme Court precedents for whether the unborn should be considered persons within the constitution. No surprise, they found none, because the issue had never come up in previous cases. And, on that basis, on the basis of silence, they assumed the unborn were not persons in justifying their decision. As Fr. Robert Spitzer points out in his fine book “Ten Universal Principles”, imaging trying to prove the continent of North America did not exist using maps produced before Christopher Columbus’ voyage. This is another egregious flaw in logic. They should have assumed it was a person, like the hunter shooting into the bushes, and then waited for future clarification to decide on such a critical issue.

Dr Jerome Lejeune, in the 1980’s, using a DNA sequencer, was able to map the entire human genome of a zygote, the one cell organism created after fertilization. This shows, from the beginning, a new human being is present with a unique genetic code, distinct from the mother’s DNA. In the words of Fr. Spitzer, such a person, absent any obstacles to development, will normally develop into a fully actualized human person. This is exactly the kind the evidence the Supreme Court should have waited for before deciding on the unborn, and the flawed logic used in Roe vs. Wade has never been revisited by the Court. 

So now we have, enshrined into law by our highest court, a series of errors and logical fallacies not worthy of a high school ethics class. So in 10, 50, or maybe 100 years, we or our descendants will look back on this decision as we now look back on the Dred Scott decision and the Nazi holocaust, and ask - how could this have happened?

What can we do? Pray and do penance, for the unborn, pregnant mothers, abortion providers, and our elected leaders. Spread the word about organizations that do great work in healing women impacted by abortion, such as Rachel’s Vineyard. Be a witness for life in your circle of influence, and do not be silent because it is a difficult issue; silence always favors the oppressor and never the oppressed. Exercise your moral duty to vote using your well-formed conscience, recognizing the pro-life position of a candidate is non-negotiable as an informed Catholic voter.

I’ll close with words from St. Teresa of Calcutta, written in a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a man convicted of trespassing when he tried to stop his fiancée from having an abortion; here is part of what she wrote: “America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe vs. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts – a child – as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human beings entitlement by virtue of his (or her) humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign.”

May God grant wisdom and courage to us, to our nation’s elected and appointed officials, and to all persons of good will to see an unborn child as a precious gift from God - not a potential human person, but a human person with great potential.