Sunday after Ascension (2018)
(1 St. Peter 4:7-11, St. John 15:26-16:4)
“The end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”
In the final verses of the Gospel according to St. Luke (which was the Gospel for the Feast of the Ascension) we are told that our risen Lord Jesus led His 11 remaining Apostles out to Bethany where He ascended in His body into the heavens right before their very eyes.
At the conclusion of St. Matthew’s Gospel we are told that prior to doing this Jesus commissioned those same Apostles to go into the world and evangelize, baptize and disciple all nations.
In The Acts we read how they obeyed that Commission.
Despite great difficulty they remained faithful to it unto death, and passed it on to other faithful men who have done the same right up through today.
We also live in difficult days for the Catholic and Apostolic Church and the Commission she has been given to fulfill.
There is ignorance (meaning a lack of understanding) about what this Faith is, as well as willful opposition to it.
This ignorance and opposition comes from both outside and within Christianity.
It seems totally outside of the understanding of such people that the Faith has been “once for all delivered unto the saints” (as St. Jude teaches ) and that the Church’s responsibility is to faithfully continue teaching and doing what the Apostles did, without additions or subtractions, until our Lord returns in glory.
Though fortunately in this country, at least at this time still, our lives are not being threatened because we believe that faith and seek to obey that Commission, we still face real opposition because of it.
Yet despite the opposition that comes from ignorance or willful antagonism our duty as a branch of the Catholic and Apostolic Church remains the same.
Since the doctrine Jesus taught His Apostles does not change, and cannot change, neither can the Commission He has given to His Church change.
No matter how much, or what kind opposition we may face we must evangelize and disciple people with that doctrine, and none other.
Sadly there is a growing number of those who hate Christianity, especially the Catholic form, because it is so “inflexible” in its doctrines.
It does not compromise what Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition teach for the sake of relevance or any other contemporary reasoning.
Because this is so we must be all the more sure we know, can defend, and are willing to proclaim the faith in the face of the opposition we encounter.
As St. Peter wrote it in the Epistle we must be sober and watchful.
Earlier in this same epistle he wrote “But sanctify (set aside a place for) the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is within you.” This is Christian sobriety.
We are to be always ready to give answers to the issues that arise within life (our own or other’s) with the doctrines of the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.
Of course not only must we know, be able to defend and proclaim the faith; most importantly we must live the faith. This is also Christian sobriety.
We all know that talk alone is cheap.
There are all sorts of people who identify themselves as Christians that live in open contradiction to the doctrine of Holy Scripture.
We cannot be that way. We must live what we say we believe! We must cover the multitude of our own sins with fervent love for others.
This is the doctrine Jesus taught.
No doubt fulfilling these inspired instructions given the opposition we often face can be a daunting task.
It is easier to study and talk about these doctrines than it is to live them!
But live them we must!
While living out the faith opens us up to being challenged and ridiculed for it, it is a risk we must accept and even embrace.
We must apply the doctrinal knowledge we have and try to be an influence upon others with it. Again, this can be daunting.
And yet by the regenerating and sanctifying power of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, it can be accomplished. Jesus wouldn’t have told us to if it could not be done.
When opposition comes we don’t “lower the bar.” No, we pray for more grace. As Romans 5:20 states “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:”
By God’s grace we can live our lives in a manner that upholds the faith, serves the needs of others and works out the salvation of our own souls.
Thanks be to God we already have this grace, the grace of the Holy Ghost, within us! In Holy Baptism He came to dwell in us.
In Holy Confirmation we were sealed with His seven-fold gifts.
In the Holy Eucharist He replenishes our souls, as our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, once offered.
By these Sacraments we are incorporated and sustained in the Body of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church, and given the strength we need to further know and better live out the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.
On our part though we must act upon what we are assuredly given.
As St. Peter wrote in the Epistle: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
My brethren, the Commission our Lord gave to His Apostles in Bethany has been handed down to us today. It is our turn. It is our time.
No part of the Great Commission has changed from then through now.
Like them we are to proclaim and live the Catholic faith to those who live here in New River Valley.
While this can and will be difficult, particularly given the ignorance and opposition we face, if we remain sober and watchful the Comforter will strengthen and lead us through each difficulty.
We will accomplish all our Lord desires us to accomplish, and in doing so bring glory to His Name as each generation before ours has. Amen
Easter Five (2018)
(St. James 1:22-27)
“He is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass.”
A number of years ago a friend of mine was looking in his mirror prior to shaving and noticed a lump on the left side of his neck.
He had not seen this lump before, and though it was not painful it concerned him so he made an appointment with his physician to have it looked at.
It’s a good thing he did, for that lump turned out to be cancerous, a form of lymphoma.
In the case of my friend things have gone well. The lump was removed and though found to be malignant; through the use of medical therapies the cancer has remained in remission.
The point to be made here is once my friend saw the lump on his neck in the mirror he acted upon it! He did not day after day look into the mirror and ignore or deny what he saw.
Just think what would have happened had he ignored or denied it?
The cancer would likely have spread, and who knows?
In today’s Epistle, St. James tells us God has given Holy Scripture to the Church for this very reason.
Holy Scripture is a God-given “mirror” to show us the lumps and deadly cancers of sin that are growing in our lives and in our souls.
In v.23, 24 St. James writes: “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man beholding his natural face in a glass (mirror). For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.”
Holy Scripture. The inspired, inerrant Word of God is a mirror for our souls.
As the mirror in our bathroom shows us the marks, blemishes and possible cancers that are growing on our bodies; the Scriptures show us the marks, blemishes and cancers of sin that are growing in our souls.
Hebrews 4:12, 13 declares Scripture is the “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Before it “…all things are naked and opened…”
In 2 Corinthians 13:5 St. Paul states we are to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith. We are to test ourselves.
This test is found within the pages of the Canon of Scripture.
The word “canon” means rule or straight edge.
Scripture is the straight edge, the plumb line, by which all of our thoughts, intents and actions are tried and tested by the Spirit of God.
The test of the health of our faith, the test by which we know whether or not we are faithful Catholic-Christians, is the test of Scripture.
We may pass the test of men, we may pass the test of our religion, but what really matters is that we pass the test of God’s Word!
Every time we read or hear Scripture we look into this God-given mirror and see the state of our souls laid open before us and before God.
Even when we try to ignore what we see, our true self is revealed.
What is necessary for us to do then is act upon what the mirror shows us, act upon what Scripture reveals about our lives, and receive the remedies God has provided for them.
What are those remedies?
They are daily prayer and confession of sin.
They are the Sacraments of the Church, especially Penance and the Eucharist, which St. Ignatius of Antioch called “the medicine of immortality.”
From these remedies we receive the grace to turn from sin, and the strength to do the works necessary to resist and refrain from it.
My friends we must not ignore what we see in the mirror!
Sin is far more deadly than any physical disease! Physical diseases can kill the body. Sin will certainly kill the soul. Physical diseases can take away natural life. Sin will take away eternal life!
St. James states that if day after day we look into the mirror of Scripture and either do not believe or ignore what it reveals, then we forget what manner of people we are.
In other words, we forget that by nature we are very far gone from original righteousness, and of our own nature inclined to sin.
We forget that if we fall out of the state of grace given to us in Baptism, we lose our capacity to receive the full benefits God gives in the other Sacraments, and the strength to live righteously that comes from them.
Dear friends let us not forget! Let us not fall back!
Instead let us look into the mirror, into Scripture, honestly, see what it shows us, and then act upon it.
St. James reveals the remedy to prevent eternal death: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only…”
If we look and see, hear and then do what the Word of God shows and tells us, then our Lord will be faithful and just to forgive us of our sin, heal us from all unrighteousness, and lead us to everlasting life.
He died and arose again for this very purpose!
May we not receive His grace in vain.
It is not enough for us to just listen to the lessons and sermons each week in the mass, or to read the lessons of the offices each day at home.
Once we hear, once we read, we must act!
We must do what the Word of God says we are to do.
The author of the early second century Epistle of Barnabas put it this way:
“It is well, therefore, that he who has learned the judgments of the Lord, as many as have been written, should walk in them. For he who keepeth these shall be glorified in the kingdom of God; but he who chooseth the other things (chooses sin) shall be destroyed with his works.”
St. James states that in doing what we hear and read in Scripture, we shall be healed of the effects of sin and be blessed in all that we do.
Dear Friends, there is nothing that can be said here this morning, or nothing this mass can do to make us become doers of the Word.
While both are God’s effective instruments, like a doctor’s instructions they are only as good as they are acted upon by the patient.
In His Word, Jesus Christ the Great Physician tells us what we must believe and how we are to live in order to gain eternal life.
In the Sacraments, He gives us the grace and strength we need to act upon His Word and grow from being “hearers only” to “doers.”
But, we must actually be doers to have the designed effect.
This morning let us pray that we will not only hear, but do.
Let us pray that by the revealing, holy, Word of God we will see any tumors of sin that may be in our lives, and then do what it takes to be healed.
May we be doers of the Word. Amen.
Easter III (2018)
“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remebereth no more the anguish…”
The analogy our Lord uses in today’s Gospel about the travail of a women in childbirth is one that all mothers, and really all who have witnessed the birth of a child, can relate to.
The way the travail, the difficult pains of childbirth, “disappear” as soon as a mother gazes into her newborn’s eyes is truly amazing.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, these days are our days of travail!
These are the days of often-intense spiritual, emotional and physical pain, the days of tears and sorrow. Such is life in a fallen, sin-filled world.
True, in the midst of it we can, and at times we do, have true joy, and peace. For by the presence of the risen Christ dwelling in us by the Holy Ghost, we are not left comfortless in the midst of these days of travail.
Yet the effect of sin has such an impact upon the world, as well as upon our bodies, emotions and spirits that these days are often filled with more pain than comfort. More tears than joy. More anxiety than peace.
We really should not expect anything different though.
If our expectation is to experience “heaven on earth” we will be greatly frustrated, for that’s not what we have been promised in this life.
In St. John 16:33 our Lord said “In the world ye shall have tribulation…”
In 2 Tim. 3:12 St. Paul writes “all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Note that both say “shall” not “may”.
If we are striving by grace to live the Faith in obedience to Scripture and Sacred Tradition, then our lives will be filled with travail.
The travail Christians must endure in their lives can take several different forms. These can be generalized into three categories: 1.) Persecution, 2.) Bodily pains and illness, and 3.) Resistance to temptation.
One or a combination of the three (if not all three) will be part of our life.
In this morning’s Epistle St. Peter speaks to the travail that must be endured resisting temptation to sin, using it as a general example of travail.
He exhorts us to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”
As the saying goes, “war is hell!” It is grueling. It is intense. It takes much effort. It is a time of travail. It can be very painful, torturous even.
And yet our Lord exhorts us to endure the travail of temptation as we would resist an enemy in war. We eare also to endure the travail of pain and illness or of persecution in like manner.
No doubt this is very difficult, much easier said than done, and so it is not unreasonable for us to ask “How?”
How and where can we gain the strength necessary to endure the travail we are enduring whether it’s temptation, illness or persecution?
We gain the strength we need to endure by looking ahead, looking through and fearlessly facing the travail we must endure now or lies ahead.
We are to look ahead and look through travail to the two greatest gifts our Lord’s passion and death provide for us: Resurrection and Eternal Life!
Hebrews 12:2 states we need to “Look… unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
For the joy that lay before Him, the joy of His resurrection and His eternal session at right hand of the Father, Jesus endured the travail of the Cross.
We also can endure the travail we encounter in these days because one day it will be finished and turned into unspeakable joy in our own resurrection from death and entry into eternal life in the heavenly kingdom!
Beloved, in Christ what lies before us is far greater than what we may be in the midst of today.
Our past may be filled with falls to sin and our present may be filled with temptations to fall again.
Today may be filled with anxiety or with bodily pain and suffering, with more to come.
One day we may suffer persecution in order to live the true Faith.
But if we endure and remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ; if we keep our eyes fixed upon Him; forward to what awaits us at the end of this age of travail, we will see that what lies before us is far greater than what lays behind, or we are in the midst of.
For what lies before us is our day of joy!
What lies before us is our resurrection!
What lies before us is our eternal life in heaven.
Our Lord said “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:”
He said “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be:”
If we, as Jesus’ servants, are to partake with Him in His resurrection and eternal life, we must first follow Him along the road to, and then on the top of our Golgotha! No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life!
He is the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead and the One who now, today, reigns as Lord from heaven.
This is what we believe! It is the essence of our faith!
So if we, as His believing servants, continue to follow Him, enduring the travail we are called to endure, in whatever form it takes, keeping the hope and the joy of our resurrection and eternal life ever before us; keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, then one day we will assuredly be where He is.
We will assuredly be partakers of His resurrection and life!
The analogy our Lord uses in today’s Gospel is one that is most vivid to all who have experienced or seen a child be born into the world.
The pain of travail prior to the birth, and the immediate way it is set aside by the joy of the child being born is almost impossible to forget.
This analogy is one we all can hopefully make use of today, in these our days of travail.
Though today the pain may be very intense and may seem as if it will never end, as in the birth of a child the days of joy to come will be far greater.
The joy of resurrection. The joy of eternal life.
May God grant us the grace and strength needed to endure the travail of these days so that we may be partakers of the greater joy of resurrection and eternal life to come. Amen.
Easter One (2018)
(St. John 20:19-23)
“The same day at evening…came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.”
It was the evening of the Resurrection.
Ten of the eleven Apostles were holed up in a room. The doors were locked for fear the Jews would find them and kill them as they had Jesus. That fear gripped them. They didn’t know what they would do next?
Jesus had been crucified. He had been laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimethea. But then Mary Magdalene and some of the other holy women disciples found the tomb empty.
Peter and John ran to investigate and found it empty too, but they did not see Jesus. Mary did, or at least she said she saw Him, alive!
He spoke to her! The Apostles wanted to believe her, but in their grief they doubted. How could it be!?
There they sat in that room with the doors locked; filled with fear, anxiety and doubt.
But then, without the door opening, there stood Jesus in their midst!
It was Him! They could see the nail prints in His hands and feet.
And what did Jesus say to them? He said, “Peace be unto you.”
Over the centuries the Church has continued to face similar fears and anxieties as she did on the day of the Resurrection.
Christians have been hunted down by those who want to persecute them.
At times, and still in some places today, the Church has to function underground in order to survive.
She has faced hostile societies, and had to go through terrible tribulations to preserve and advance the Faith and the Church.
This still goes on in Muslim and Communist nations (China just made it illegal to purchase a Bible online). In our own country, mainstream media and some political operatives harass and mock Christians openly.
We should not be surprised by any of this.
Jesus told the Apostles this would happen. He said: “…If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
And yet in the midst of all of this, through the centuries as well as in our day, Jesus stands in the midst and says “Peace be unto you.”
The Church must not lose heart, our Lord and Savior will remain with us, even unto the end of the world!
I don’t have to tell any of you that life is tough.
We have to deal with many difficulties on a daily basis; finances, health, work issues, children or grandchildren, family, home, death and others.
Like the Apostles, these can cause us to become holed up by fear, anxiety, worry, hurt, sadness and frustration.
But in the midst of it all there is Jesus; entering the walls we are holed up within, with the same words He had for the Apostles “Peace be unto you.”
While it is natural for us to feel fear, anxiety and other such emotions, there is no need for us to succumb to them! There is no need for us to lock the doors and be holed up. Why? The Prince of Peace dwells with us and in us!
In St. John 14:27 Jesus says “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Do we believe Him? If so, let us be at peace.
We can take hold of God’s peace because we know He loves us.
We all know St. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”
God our Father loves us so much that He gave His only-begotten Son, Jesus to die for us, to rise for us, to ascend for us, and to mediate and advocate for us, so that one day we could be with Him for eternity.
Romans 8:35-38 definitively declares how vast the love of Christ for us is: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
NOTHING, nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus!
If nothing can separate us from His love, and His peace is given to us because He loves us, then nothing can separate us from; nothing can take away from us, His peace.
Knowing the peace of Christ does not mean we won’t feel fear or anxiety.
But knowing the peace of Christ can, and will, prevent them from being holed up and locked in by them. We need to take hold of His peace.
In St. John 16:33 Jesus said “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus used those same words in St. Matthew 14:27…
The Apostles were alone in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had left them to go up into a mountain to pray. As they sailed, the sea became rough and they thought it would capsize their boat and they would drown.
Despite several of the Apostles being experienced fisherman, their fear paralyzed them, and they did not know what to do and cried out.
But then Jesus came, walking on the waves. When he reached the boat He said unto them “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”
Today, right now, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father praying for, interceding for, us. If we are sailing in turbulent waters, He knows it, and by His Holy Spirit is with us as we sail on.
It is likely He will not take us out of those waters. In St. John 17:15 He prayed the Father: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil [one].”
We may not be delivered from the circumstances that cause our fears and anxieties, but we will be kept from Satan overcoming us; from capsizing the boat, from being holed up by them, from being locked inside by them.
Jesus is with us. He will never leave us, nor forsake us.
Brethren, feeling fear or anxiety is not unusual or bad. In fact it’s natural.
The issue is, what do we do when we feel them? Do we allow ourselves to be holed up and locked away? Or do we allow Jesus in to bring peace to the turmoil? I’d like to say I’ve always done this. I’ve not, but I’m learning.
The peace of Jesus is ours; all we need do is receive it. And that peace, which passes all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. In the name of Jesus I say, “Peace by unto you!” Amen.