February 2, 2020 — Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord

Listen to this homily here.

Brothers and sisters, I was confronted by two deaths this week, one all of us surely have heard about, the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and several others in a helicopter crash, and the second one was the death of my best-friend’s stepmother, Irene.  My best friend Chris happens to be a priest of the Archdiocese but I have been best friends with him since high school.  When we were in college, his mother died, after a long illness.  His father remarried and for the last 28 years his stepmother was another mother to him, and all she met.

Irene was a faithful Catholic, she went to Church, she volunteered at the Center for Hope Hospice, she founded and ran a Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at Our Lady of Lourdes in Mountainside.  Prayer was important to her.  The Eucharist was important to her.  Jesus was important to her and she organized her life around service to Him.  She loved her family and friends, and treated everyone with love.  As I saw her at her wake, I thanked her not only for all the love, but for the witness she gave to Christ to all her family and friends.  Irene was not a slave to evil, the Devil, or the world — she was freed by Christ’s redemptive suffering, death, and resurrection to live in the light of Christ whom she adored.  I leave it up to God to determine whether or not Irene is in heaven, as He is the only judge, but if she is not, I feel that I have no chance.  But, I pray that God has her in Heaven.

Unless one were under a rock this week, one has surely heard of the tragic helicopter accident which claimed the life of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other victims.  Kobe Bryant was an NBA Superstar, winning five NBA championships in his twenty-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.  He had a wife named Vanessa and had four daughters with her.  His family and the families of the other victims are grieving right now, and we should say a prayer for them.  All of these facts we know.

What we may not have heard, and the stories have come out this week, that before Kobe and Gigi boarded that helicopter on Sunday afternoon, they were at Mass on Sunday morning.  They celebrated the Eucharist at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, California.  Kobe was raised Catholic, and was married in the Catholic Church.  He has been reported to have been seen not just at Sunday Mass but frequently at daily Masses.  The Archbishop of Los Angeles said he knew him to be a man of faith.

However, Kobe had had his problems.  He committed adultery.  His wife divorced him.  A priest helped turn his life around with good advice, and Kobe sought to live his life better.  Eventually he and his wife reconciled and together they started a Foundation to help young kids develop physical and social skills through sports and charity work.  I repeat these facts, not to impugn the dead but to demonstrate great hope.

Great hope in what?  Great hope in God.  Great hope in the Church.  Great hope in the Sacraments, particularly the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist.  As with Irene, I leave it up to God whether or not Kobe, or Gianna, or any of the other victims are in Heaven or not, for He is the only judge.  I pray for his salvation and that of all the other victims.  But, I believe that faith, demonstrated by the reception of the Sacraments strengthens us and allows us to grow closer to Him, avoid sin, and to do good in our lives.  I think Kobe’s story justifies my belief.

No matter our past, we have a future.  And our destiny, because of our Baptism is to be with God in Heaven.  Whether we actually achieve that is, of course, up to us and the choices we make to do good and to avoid sin.  But, the Sacraments help us to become holy and to be rewarded with eternal life.

So, we must ask ourselves, do we take Church seriously enough?  Do we come every week to Mass, repent of grave sin in the confessional, and receive the Eucharist worthily?  Do we pray enough?  Or, do we allow other things get in the way of these duties: sports, theatre, dance, parties, laziness, work?  At the end of each of our lives, we will meet Jesus and have to answer for our conduct.  Would that we were at Mass and receive the Eucharist worthily on the day of our death!

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Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time — February 16, 2020

Today’s readings may be found here.

You can listen to this homily being delivered here.

Brothers and sisters, I am sure it is no great surprise to you, but I have many faults.  There is an ugly side to me which I detest.  I have an ego that can fill a room.  I do not listen to others well because I know everything.  I can be flippant and matter-of-fact in talking to others and condescending.  I am all too quick to anger and I can be vicious in arguments.  And, I do know the list goes on.  If I have hurt any of you through any of these actions, or in any other way through actions I have not named, I am truly sorry.  I know that my sins affect others and can really hurt other people.  And I always wonder why God has called me to be a priest with all of these failings.  St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  St. Paul nailed it.

I read an article the other night about suggestions of what to give up for Lent.  But, the article also gave seven reasons WHY we should give up something.  The last reason hit me right between the eyes:  The reason for giving something up for Lent is that when we fail, we recognize that we are in need of redemption.  I think that is a lesson that goes beyond just fasting but to all of our sins and sinfulness — that when we fail, we recognize that we are not God, we are not always in control of ourselves, and we are not Our Savior, Jesus Christ is.  We do the things we normally hate when we think we are God.  And yet, we do it anyway.  We need to be reminded that we are not the Savior.  I think I need to be reminded of this most of all.

In the Gospel today, Jesus told us that our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.  The scribes and Pharisees would check the boxes and follow the letter of the commandments, but would never see the inner reality and sinfulness leading underlying the sin — that for instance, underneath murder there was anger.  We owe it to ourselves to look at ourselves and to look at what we do.

I shared with you that earlier list of my faults because I know I need to make amends.  Sins hurt God, others, and ourselves.  My sins hurt God and others and therefore hurt myself as well because I end up doing things I hate and preach to others about.  And so, I need to make amends with God and with anyone whom I have hurt.  And I want to make those amends because I want to follow what Jesus has taught us.

People often say: “I don’t need to go to Confession — it’s not like I killed anybody.”  But, Jesus says anyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.  Brothers and sisters, we really need to think about this part of our faith lives.  Do we need to go to confession?  The answer is yes.

First, confession makes us state our sins out loud.  The very act of speaking them makes us hear them.  But, in another way, it puts them outside of ourselves to be dealt with.  Second, confession allows us to recognize that we are not the only ones who sin.  We can get very down on ourselves when we realize our faults and sins.  But when we go and speak with a Priest, we know he is there because we are NOT the only sinner.  Third, the Priest can give us encouragement and advice that will help us.  When I hear confessions, I truly don’t know where the words come from sometimes.  At those times, I know the power of Confession is real because I know it is not me, the Priest doing it, but indeed it is Jesus Christ speaking to the person in front of me.  Fourth, and most important, Jesus Christ absolves our sins and gives us the grace to try again not to sin.  When we approach someone whom we have hurt and ask forgiveness, and when they say that they forgive us, it brings us comfort, doesn’t it?  Well, every sin offends God as well, and we need to know we are forgiven, otherwise we become hardened in our sins.

This upcoming Lent, which begins in a week and a half on Ash Wednesday, February 26th, we will be offering here at Guardian Angel, more opportunities to seek the Sacrament of Confession.  Please consider what I have said and make time for Confession, especially if you have not been in a while.  And if you are worried about coming here to seek the Sacrament, go to one of the surrounding Churches.  In the meantime, know that my prayers are with all of you.  Please pray for me as well that I can battle my sins better and make amends to those I have hurt!

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Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time — February 9, 2020

Today’s Readings can be found here.

You can listen to this homily being delivered here.

Brothers and sisters we just heard the second installment from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Last week, if not for the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, we would have heard Jesus begin that Sermon with the Beatitudes, those “blessed” statements about peacemakers, mourners, and the meek.  So, we lose out a little not getting to hear those words that are well-loved.  If you want to read them on your own, go to Chapter Five in the Gospel of Matthew and you will see them followed by the Gospel we heard today.  With today’s Gospel, Jesus is not speaking in generalities of people, but Jesus is speaking to each and everyone of us directly  and specifically.  He is saying that we are the salt of the earth.  We ARE the salt of the earth.  And that we are the light of the world.  We ARE the light of the world.  It can be so easy to dismiss those statements because we have heard them so many times before, but today, let us try to take them to heart.

First, we are the salt of the earth, but if salt loses its taste it is no longer good for anything.  Brothers and sisters, what does salt do but enliven the rest of the food it is mixed with?  We are to mix with others and enliven them!  We are to give flavor to the world with our unique skills and talents, through our time and treasure, through each of our interactions with others to make certain that they are enlivened by the Holy Spirit too!

Second, we are the light of the world, and we need to be set upon a lampstand so that our light shines before others.  How does that happen?  Well, let us consult the first reading which tells us that when we share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked, when we see them, and do not turn our backs on our own, then our light will break forth like the dawn.  Essentially when we perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy for others, our light shines before others.

Every time we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, bury the dead and give alms to the poor, our light shines before others.  Every time we instruct, advise, console, comfort, forgive, and bear wrongs patiently and with compassion, our light shines before others.

Brothers and sisters, these things I have just listed are why we are here on this Earth, and what we are supposed to do as Christians.  Let us today redouble our efforts to do them and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  Amen.

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time — January 26, 2020

Today’s readings may be found here.

Listen to this homily here.

This world is divided.  We know this.  We see it every day in the news.  Look at the political situation right now in Washington.  There is also war, persecution, inhuman atrocities that go on in this world every day.  This world is divided.

But, St. Paul urges us today to have no divisions among us, that we be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  That may seem impossible, but it is the desire of St. Paul and Jesus Christ for us.  Maybe we can’t heal the world of division, but can we heal our families, our friends, our neighbors of it?  Do we need to stand idly by and say that’s just the way it is?

The key to overcoming division is to remember that we are baptized.  And as we are baptized, we are made one with the Body of Christ.  No matter what, we are one Church and one organism.    We need to care for others the way we care for our very own selves. 

What leads us away from thinking this way is simply our pride.  We want to believe what we want to believe, and nobody is going to tell us different.  We put up walls that divide.  We surround ourselves only with the like-minded.  The only remedy to that pride is to become meek and humble, to become obedient to the Father in heaven in all ways.

So let us today pray for the following: first, humility in our own hearts; second, healing in our families; third, an end to division in our country; and fourth, an end to hatred and violence in this world.  Amen.

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Feast of the Baptism of the Lord — January 12, 2020

Today’s Readings can be found here.

       This Gospel that we just heard, brothers and sisters, is a game changer.  Centuries and centuries ago, God created us, and we fell from grace through the original sin, but He promised us that there would be a redemption.  God the Father called a people to be chosen through Abraham, He liberated them from physical slavery through Moses, and gave them a land to live in.  Some stayed faithful throughout, others sinned and went their own way. 

       Yet, through it all, God the Father constantly culled a remnant of people who were faithful to Him, so that they could receive the greatest gift of salvation that was to come through God Himself becoming one of us.  God’s Son, the Eternal Word, our God, became man through the incarnation and became Emmanuel, God with us.  God came to us through one of our own, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the epitome of an obedient servant.  The almighty God became a servant of the Father through His Mother, another obedient servant.  But, that was not the end.  And that is the game change today.  Jesus Christ, the servant that Isaiah prophesied in the first reading today, was baptized in the Jordan, by another one of God’s servants, John the Baptist.  The heavens opened to Christ, the Spirit came down in the form of a dove and a voice rang out from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” 

       Through God’s will and the Baptism of Jesus Christ, human nature now had the ability to be raised to a higher level.  As St. Paul put it, we have the ability to become no longer servants, but God’s very own children.  The Baptism of Jesus Christ allows us to be Baptized into Him, and therefore become God’s Children, rather than little pawns in some game.  This is a game changer, if you know anything about mythology — the various gods used human beings for their playthings, demanded tribute, exacted revenge upon them, punished them not to correct them, but to destroy them.  The idea that we can be beloved sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven, through Baptism into His Son changed everything.  We can now go to Heaven, we can now live in freedom during our lives on Earth.  That is now the possibility for each of us.  Because we have been told this truth all our lives, we might take it for granted — because most of us were probably baptized as infants, we might take it for granted — and that is why I am belaboring this point so much — this is not just trivia, this is great news for each of us that we need to reflect upon daily in our lives.

       For, often enough, we don’t feel free.  We still suffer from the sins of the world and the sins of our own — we still suffer illnesses and death — we suffer anxiety, depression, and fear — we suffer from lack of security and uncertainty.  We can name what we suffer and we don’t feel freedom there.  And that is why we need to recall this good news, this great news that we are beloved children of our loving Father in heaven.  We need to bring those troubles to Him, we need to bring our lack of freedom to Him, we need to find freedom in Him when we do not feel freedom in this world.  We are no longer servants who are playthings or pawns, we are beloved sons and daughters of a loving God who created us, became one of us, was baptized for us, and suffered and died on the Cross for us.  The game has indeed changed, let us live in that knowledge.

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Feast of the Epiphany — January 5, 2020

The readings for today’s feast can be found here.

The story of the Epiphany, which we just heard proclaimed in the Gospel, is a story of faith.  It is a story of faith in exercise, and it is a story of faith rewarded.  It then leads to a lifetime of being enlightened by the glory of God, and letting that glory shower down upon others in our lives.           The three kings, the three wise men, the three magi, whatever you want to call them must have had faith, or they must have been open to receiving the faith that was being offered to them.  I think that they must have been open to it, for what would the appearance of a star mean to them, unless they were open to being prepared to receive the King, the Messiah that was portended?  I think that they must have been open to it because what else would have caused them to leave their kingdoms, their homeland, to travel to an unknown district in search of faith’s goal, Jesus Christ?  And so, we need to ask ourselves, do we act with the same kind of faith?  Do we have faith that Jesus is working steadily in our lives, begging us to come to Him?  Or are we not open to receive the greatest of all gifts, the graces of Jesus Christ in our hearts.  In short, do we or do we not exercise our faith in our lives, letting it encourage us to seek Him?

Moving on, after the kings reached Jerusalem, they were confronted by those who had no faith, those worldly people seeking their own power and glory.  We have those kind of people all around us as well.  And so I think we should as ourselves: do we display our faith to others, even though we know those others lack the faith we have?  Do we hide the graces and glory God has given us in our lives, because we worry about what they might say, or do to us?  Or do we embrace our faith as the wise men did, and carry on our journey towards Christ proudly?

Moving forward, the kings reached the baby Jesus and His Mother and did Him homage, bringing gifts of great worth to Him.  We can ask ourselves, what do we offer to the Lord, do we offer Him what is really meaningful to Him, or just what we can spare?  Do we offer Him all of the time, talent, and treasure that we could give to Him, in response to the great gifts He has given us?

I think that if most of us knew that Jesus was around the corner, we would desire to go to Him.  I think that if we knew that Jesus was present here we would bring our best things to Him and do Him homage.  The question is, do we do that, do we bring our best to Him, now in faith, or are we waiting for some other sort of revelation before we give all to Him?

In another Gospel, one about what would happen at the end times, Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of those amongst us, we do for Him.  Can we not do homage to our King by treating others around us with respect, love, and care?  Can we not be as generous with our gifts in service of others as if we saw Christ?  Can we let ourselves be moved by the generosity of the faith within us, to give all to our neighbors in love?  That is the call of the Gospel.

The story of the Epiphany is a story of faith, faith exercised, faith rewarded, and faith demonstrating God’s glory to others.  Let us live our faith as the wise men did before us!

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Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God — January 1, 2020

The passage of time, the tick of the clock, the turn of the calendar page, the changing of the calendar itself from 2019 to 2020 is very useful to us in the practicalities of our lives.  Time passes, and we measure it.  But what passes is merely transitory; we don’t ever get it back.  Every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every year is lost to the annals of time, never, ever to be seen again.  We lose time in our lives, rather, it is stripped from us without our consent, never to be given back to us again.

And so we look to other things that we hope are not transitory to give us our stability.  We look to wealth, to possessions, to health, etc.  But, we find that these too are transitory as well.  The value of our bank accounts go up and down, our investments change in value, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but over time they do change.  We tend to get more and more possessions, but even these can be lost, damaged or destroyed.  Our health can be good because we have good genes, we eat right, and we exercise, but still, at some point our good health will be called into question, we all get sick, and there will be some end for our lives.  The point is this: the things we look to for stability are not stable, they are transitory as well.  “You can’t take it with you” is one of the cliché remarks we make when this reality comes to mind.

However, there are eternal things, there are things that will never change, that will last.  It is in these things that we should find our stability.  What things are stable?  Truth is stable, for one.  The precepts of the Lord, handed down through the Church to each of us are true, and they are eternal.  It is not my truth or your truth — it is THE truth.  Loving God and loving your neighbor will never get old; the Ten Commandments will never change.  We should therefore contemplate the truths of the Lord, for they are eternal.  

What else is stable?  Our eternal souls are stable.  There will never be a time where our souls do not exist.  You and I exist and will always exist.  We should contemplate the state of our souls and determine if we are prepared to spend eternity in heaven.  We have the time now to avail ourselves of the Lord’s mercy and to do good works through prayer, penance, and almsgiving.    We should be spending our time here on earth preparing ourselves for the eternal judgment of our souls.  Not to be too scary, but it will occur and it is up to us where we end up, depending how we respond to the Lord’s love and mercy.  Our money and possessions will not go with us, but our good works will.

Finally, and not in this particular order that I listed, God is stable, God is eternal.  God is eternally reaching out to us, constantly begging us to turn to Him, consistently pleading with us to let Him deeper into our hearts.  The Lord Jesus is constant in offering to us the mercy He won for us through His Passion and Death.  The Redemption is eternal.  We can bank on that, but only if we avail ourselves of that mercy.

Today, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, let us turn to Her in a special way for Her aid.  Let us ask Her to help us to turn ourselves to the eternal things, God, truth, and our eternal souls for stability and away from the fleeting things, time, wealth, possessions and health.  Let us all try to be like the humble Mother of God, seeking God in all things, and seeking only the things that bring us to God.

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