The Bread of Life: heaven’s answer to a hell of a mess (August 26th, 2018)

Before all Masses today, I read this letter to my parishioners regarding abuse by clergy. I am posting it here for reference for those who might wish to read or re-visit it. Please forgive any errors in the Spanish translation, which is dependent on Google Translate and my limited vocabulary:

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26th, 2018) – Father Maurer’s letter to the Lewis county Catholic community regarding abuse by clergy


Well, this is a hell of a mess. I’m not just cursing, by the way, I’m describing: this mess is from Hell. There is no room for mincing words when we talk what we’re reading about in the grand jury report, what we’re hearing about with former-cardinal McCarrick, what is both being discovered from the past and from those victims who are newly emboldened to speak out now – whether their particular abuse happened in the past or more recently. This from Hell.

There is also no room for pretending that this is not here or for assuming a defensive posture. It does no one any good to say ‘it’s just a minority of priests’ or ‘it just happened back in the past’ or ‘it’s not that much’. Frankly, that kind of excusing or diminishing is also from Hell. Do not participate in it. We need to acknowledge that we are in an awful state: the brokenness of the Church exposed for us to see.

I find it very interesting to hear the readings today, how the Lord allowed for all of this to unfold and for this particular Sunday and these particular readings to be at hand. Joshua gathers the people of Israel and when they’re in front of him he says:

If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

We’re standing in front of prophets right now – the unlikeliest of prophets. The jurors on that Pennsylvania report, believers or not. And if you read the first pages, you may see for yourselves that they do not have an ax to grind or an agenda to drive forward. They’re looking for the truth: they’re prophets. Those who have come forward about former-cardinal McCarrick, those who speak about their own experience – unwilling though they may be, pained as they are – they are prophets. And we stand before them.

And the question is being asked of us: ‘who will you serve? Decide, now’. Will you follow the whims and the idols of culture or will you re-dedicate yourself to Jesus Christ, your Savior and your God?

Don’t be quick to answer – don’t be quick to say ‘I’m on the side of righteousness, I’m got this, I’m following the Lord.’

The second reading today is also a striking one. You’ll notice that the long form version is that rather infamous one among Catholic circles. It starts like this:

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the church,
he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Oh, couples love this reading – they’re sooooo happy when it comes up… So let me just address the elephant in the room right off the bat. Any spouse who uses this passage as a ‘bash passage’, as a way of domineering over their spouse, recall that you too will stand before God to account for your life. When you pull out this passage – perhaps even recalling chapter and verse – good luck with that. We don’t have time to argue that any further, because that isn’t what Paul was even talking about.

The very end of this reading speaks to his intention: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.” And what does He say about Christ and the Church? “The church is subordinate to Christ”. Subordinate.

When you decide to follow God, you embrace humility. ‘I will follow Christ and His Church’ – even in times when that Church is fraught with sickness and sin. Nonetheless the faith that has been passed down, that is from Christ.

How many of us find ourselves struggling with our faith! Not just with personalities of the Church or the sins of the Church – terrible though as that may be at times. And I do not mean to diminish in any way how difficult in can be when you have a clergy member you dislike, someone has fallen from grace, or has abused terribly as we see in example after example after example laid out in the news.

Yet how many of look at our faith and respond like the disciples of Jesus who walked away? “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” How many of us, in our hearts at least, have answered with that to the call of Christ: ‘Be perfect as My heavenly Father is perfect’, ‘give up everything and follow me’, ‘be subordinate to Me’.

I wonder at the posture of the disciples who left. As Christ is talking in this passage, you may recognize that we are continuing His ‘Bread of Life’ discourse that we have been reading through from last Sunday and the Sunday before. Last Sunday we heard Christ say not once, not twice, but five times ‘If you do not eat My Body and drink My Blood, you will not have life within you – if you do chew My Flesh and swallow My Blood, you will not have eternal life – if you will not receive this gift, you will not be received into heaven’. That’s what they’re responding to.

I wonder if they got more and more tense, their arms crossed in front of them, their shoulders tensing up, their eyes cast down and then finally, they’ve had enough: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” And they left.

How many times do we see this reflected in our own hearts? ‘It’s too hard to follow our faith – it’s too hard to be humble – its too hard to admit that I am part of the problem in my parish, in my community, in my family – it’s too hard to admit that I am attached more to my sin than I am to following Christ’.

I remember a conversation with someone in some sort of irregular marriage. As you might expect, we ended up talking about the consistent teaching of the Church – as given to us by Christ Himself – about marriage and purity. The person looked me in the eye and said “Father, you don’t know how hard it is not to have sex.”

‘…..really? Tell me more about this thing called ‘celibacy’ – I’d like to learn about that!’

Now I don’t want to pretend that it’s easier for priests or easier for married people. We’ve all got our struggles. But let’s be honest – we all have our favorite sins. Contraception, pornography, masturbation are among the top three of our culture. But those aren’t all:

‘I don’t want to get married in the Church; it’s too much effort to go through marriage prep or have to deal with annulment work – and in the meantime you want me to be continent, to be celibate?’

‘You want me to worship in a certain way, to follow the guidance of the Church in how to offer sacrifice to the Lord?’

‘You want me to donate money?’

‘You want me to volunteer?’

‘You expect me to pray every day?’

‘You expect me to give to the poor and talk to those who make me uncomfortable?’

‘You want me to give up everything?’

Not me, no. I’m no better than anyone else – these questions ring in my heart and at times from my lips as well. But Jesus does want all of this, and more. Jesus has consistently asked not for ten percent, not for thirty or fifty or even ninety percent. He asks for everything.

“This saying is hard; who can accept it”

We can accept it. We are called to accept it. And it starts with first confessing our sins. There is a reason I pound on this sacrament so often: we have to confess our weakness, we have to confess our brokenness. This is what happened to these abusing clerics: they so grew in pride until they were so blind that they could commit the most terrible atrocities, cover it up…and then sacrilegious celebrate Mass, sometimes just minutes after the fact.

If we think our own sins will not lead to terrible acts, we only have to look to the example of those who have done these things to see the kind of path that we could fall into. Maybe not those sins – God forbid! – but certainly terrible sins. We will wound ourselves and we will devastate others.

This saying is hard, but we are called to accept it. And the very first thing we do is confess our need: ‘I need a Savior, I need someone who will redeem me. I need someone who will see my petty desires, my grasping for power or authority or possessions or wealth or status or acclaim – and still accept me, and give me something work all of those things, worth more. Someone who has the power to forgive my sins, Who is willing to give me His very Body and Blood to nourish me, Who is preparing a better place than this messed up and broken world.’

That person is Jesus Christ. That is where our faith lies.

We are hearing calls afar and in our own community – perhaps you yourself have considered or even made this invitation – to prayer, to acts of reparation, to fasting and abstinence. You might have doubts right now and sleepless nights, sorrowful and angry, wondering why you’re here and listening to a priest after so many priests have violated their sacred trust. We do these things not because of earthly examples, but because of the example of Christ.

If we are willing to subordinate ourselves to Jesus, to declare ourselves and our households to God, we will be able to fulfill the commandment of Christ: to receive His Body and Blood – worthily! – and to present Him to the world.

It’s an interesting thing that this should all come to pass around this weekend, with these readings. Moreover, Monday and Tuesday are special memorials in the life of the Church. The power of prayer on display in the lives of two particular saints.

Monday is the memorial of Saint Monica – you’ll recognize her as the mother of Augustine. She suffered greatly as she witnessed the sins of her son, watching him embrace a life of debauchery and abuse – abusing his own body and those of others as he sought after every single vice. You can read all about it in his book ‘Confessions’ – because one day, after years of prayer on her part, Augustine asked to be baptized. Recognizing his own weakness, he confessed is sins. And therefore, on Tuesday, we celebrate Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church.

I don’t know what role we’re in, honestly – are we Saint Monica or Saint Augustine? I guess at times we’re either of them. Sometimes we look at the sins of others and we weep, we mourn as we see how much others have destroyed lives, including their own. And sometimes we’re Saint Augustine, participating in those very sins and blind to the fact that we’re the source of our own pain and that of those around us.

What changed their lives? Jesus Christ – renewed dedication to Him in prayer and acts of reparation as we join our sacrifices to His.

In a few moments we will celebrate the Eucharist, and as I mentioned before Mass starting this weekend every Sunday vigil Mass for the foreseeable future will be offered for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. We also need to offer ourselves and ask for the conversion of ourselves.

That cross-armed posture of the disciples who walked away – I see it every Sunday. People come up to the front of the church, arms crossed. Communion has been replaced with a blessing. I don’t mean to judge anyone and I know that children also often come up this way because they haven’t yet received their first holy Communion. But I can’t help but wonder: how many of us in this room have not received Communion for weeks, or months, or years, because we have not yet let go of the sins to which we are so attached.

The saints and Christ Himself are proof that this way that is hard can be accepted and can effect change in our lives. Do we want to fix all these problems, do we want to bring about conversion – even in those in the high places of the hierarchy, do we want to restore trust in Christ’s Church in a world that not only looks at us with skepticism for our faith but now anger for our hypocrisy?

It starts with our holiness. We must be ones who say ‘I will submit my own life for conversion – because I am a sinner too. Because I like sin….even some that are grave sins. And yet I need to receive the Bread of Life, I need eternal life.’

Saint Peter makes that amazing testimony of faith at the end of the Gospel. Jesus, having watched some of His disciples walk away, turns to His Apostles. I’ve always imagined Him with a sad look on His face, His voice low and soft: “Do you also want to leave?”

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is Christ’s promise to us: ‘I give you My Body and Blood. I give you My very Self, so that you will have eternal life.’ It will not be easy! It is the hard way, and when you dedicate yourself and your household to the Lord, you will be confronted with all of the ways that you need to be converted. One by one or all at once, Jesus Christ will reveal to you the ways that you have not yet given yourself to Him.

And yet, when you do, when you honestly present your sins forgiveness, you will become a saint. What a great gift it would be to be able to celebrate your feast day, to tell the story of your conversion – if not here on earth, one day in heaven. Saint Augustine has a whole book full of his sins – not because he is trying to excuse or glorify them, but because his conversion from those sins shows God’s glory even over the darkest of deeds.

God can overcome these sins as well: God can overcome the brokenness of our Church. And as He said to Peter – ‘On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it’. But they’re sure trying hard! And it won’t help if we cooperate through our sins.

And so we celebrate Mass and we come forward for communion. And I’d like to encourage you: only come forward for communion. If you’re not receiving communion today, stay seated. This is what the Church teaches us to do when we are not able to receive communion, for whatever reason. We’re not called to receive a blessing at this time – which is why I don’t offer them at communion – because it replaces communion with something lesser. And what do we call that when we replace the Lord with something that is not the Lord? Idolatry. We don’t want to make that our practice.

Stay seated if you’re not receiving communion – not out of shame or fear of judgment, but in anticipation. In these moments we recognize our need for God’s gratuity and commit to making a good confession, changing our lives – and returning to reconciliation any time we fall – so that we can look forward to that time when we are ready to worthily receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Because it is at Mass, at communion, that Jesus gives us eternal life. He has promised to do just that.

We’re feeling pretty bruised and broken right now. But we are not lost. Christ loves His Church – even we sinners. Especially sinners! Christ has special care for those who are victims. And especially now – if we are to offer that care for victims – we must purify ourselves so that we are found ready to offer what they truly deserve: a Church that can turn to them and say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry that this has been done to you, I’m that my Church did this to you, I’m sorry that we ignored it for so long or covered it up. And I stand ready to help you.’

If we are going to do that well, we must be united with Christ – especially through confession and the Eucharist. Christ is hope, He is the center of our faith, He is the reason the Church exists, and the only foundation that will stand firm. Trying to build our faith on anything else – including bishops or priests – will only produce something weak and fragile. But if we return to Christ, if we declare ourselves for the Lord, if we turn to Him and accept even His hard sayings, subordinating ourselves to Him, Christ who climbed on the cross and accepted our sins – sins that He had no culpability for – Christ who rose from the dead and promised us new life, He will restore us, bring us to health. And through us, He will bring life to our fallen world.

This Sunday is the last Sunday that we repeat the psalm 34 – “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord”. We’ve sung that psalm three Sunday in a row. Today, may we ask the Lord to prepare us if we’re not ready and to bring us if we are so that we may taste and see His goodness here at this altar. And may He help us to own our sins, to proclaim His forgiveness, and to be agents of healing especially to those who most need. Christ is our faith. Christ is our center. He will not abandon us.

Let us stay close to Him, trusting that He truly has the words of eternal life.

When all seems lost, food for the journey (August 12, 2018)

I have long admired the prophet Elijah from the Old Testament, but never felt any particular connection to him. We are all baptized priest, prophet, and king and share in these charisms as have so many who have gone before us. But I’ve found Elijah to be an enigmatic figure until recently – particularly in this reading today.

So Elijah goes days into the desert and there, sitting beneath a broom tree, he says the most extraordinary thing. The book of Kings has him praying for death saying “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

I don’t think he’s saying this to be dramatic or that he is being sarcastic – I think he was serious. ‘This is it, I’m done – let’s get this over with’. I have to admit that over the past couple of weeks, and perhaps you have shared in this, I have felt a similar sentiment in my own heart.

We don’t have to look far to see the overwhelming brokenness of the world. We read the news and see violence, poverty, illness and natural disaster. People just being mean –sometimes of those people have great power while sometimes they just have a platform of some sort, but they just say awful things about each other. We see whole countries or cultures that are falling apart. One example is in Ireland – once a bastion of Catholic culture (or so we thought) – which recently legalized abortion. A move that most of us would have assumed unthinkable, right up until it happened.

We see it in our own country, watching the divide of political sides and ideological groups grow with folks becoming more entrenched against those on the opposite end. People who are otherwise generally of good will are drawn in or even jump in eagerly.

Even here locally we see signs of brokenness, or things that are worrisome. In the announcement last week of the closure of one of our parishes – Sacred Heart parish in Morton.

We also see it in our faith: seeing our bishops and cardinals fail us – again – abusing their power. We see a former cardinal who abused his power in terrible ways. And it seems that there may be bishops who knew of this and turned a blind eye at best, possibly even actively covering it up.

“This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

It’s not sinful to feel these things, to look around, feel the pressure and weight of all of this – wanting to respond simply ‘I’m out of here, I don’t want anything to do with this, what could I possibly can do?’.

No one here is necessarily a citizen of Ireland. None of us necessarily have great political influence. Most of us don’t have great sway in the Church and sometimes there are even decisions – like the closure of a parish – that are hard, if necessary. We might wonder ‘what am I supposed to do now?’.

Saint Paul warns us of what we’re not supposed to do: that we should not allow ourselves to be filled with bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, or malice. We certainly have enough of that already in the world. Yet we certainly feel that temptation, certainly in the injustice of things that are wrong, against those who have betrayed us, in the face of those things that are just sorrowful. Are response is both sorrow and anger.

If you’ll pardon me for taking a quote from outside of the Catholic tradition, there’s a quote from someone – I think it’s the Buddha1 – it says that “bitterness is liking drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die”. It doesn’t work, and usually rebounds back on us. So where do we go, what do we do?

I think we can take solace in God’s response to Elijah’s exclamation. Elijah, who is God’s chosen prophet, who is to proclaim God’s will. He’s had enough, and it seems apparent that he’s gone there to die, telling God as much. And God, who has previously shown Himself in fire and thunder and fury…doesn’t do any of that in response.

Instead, He sends an angel to Elijah, who gives him bread while telling him ‘you need to eat, or you won’t have strength for the journey’. So Elijah does, and then he goes back to sleep. And the angel comes back a second time, repeating the message and offering more food. Elijah eats a second time – and then walks through the desert for forty days until he reaches the mountain of God.

We see something similar going on in the Gospel today, with Jesus. You might recall last week’s Gospel, which we pick up from today. Jesus has gone off and the people chase after Him. When they finally find Him, He calls them out for their motivation: ‘you’re not here because you want signs or miracles; you’re here because you saw the five thousand fed … and you’re simply looking to be fed again’.

But Jesus isn’t scolding them, He’s raising the ante. The Father has sent an angel in the past – now He’s sending His Son. And where He gave regular bread in the past, He gives eternal sustenance: the bread of life. Because the journey is long, and we will not make it if we are not fed.

We may truly and genuinely feel powerless in the face of the brokenness of the world, of our own communities, in the brokenness of our own Church – and it’s leaders. But we are not powerless. Not that we’re somehow powerful in our own right, not because we’re especially strong or wise or well-spoken – but because we are fed with the bread of life.

We too are here – who may have come for a variety of reasons, maybe because we’re ‘supposed to’, or because we have to, or because we like the music (or the donuts), or maybe we just don’t know why we are here. And the Lord does not spurn our motivation, whatever it may be, nor judge our very human feelings – He responds by making Himself present, at this altar, in this Mass. He gives us spiritual food.

The journey is long, and we will not make it unless we receive His Precious Body and His Precious Blood.

But what do we do from here? I’m not suggesting that you walk into the desert – but the tasks in front of us are no less burdensome. They will be fruitful, however, if we take seriously our responsibility to both walk and invite others to the mountain of God.

It is our responsibility to preach the Gospel of Life, even if we don’t live in Ireland. It is our responsibility even in the face of parishes to closing, even to community members we may not know, to reach out to parishioners from Morton and let them know that we are united with them, to invite them to join us in worship and service and to walk with them as they prepare to say goodbye to what they have come to love.

And even with our bishops, though we may not have power over them, we all can write letters – in charity, in kindness – to say ‘I want to support you bishop, who I believe is good, but also I want to ask you to hold accountable those who have failed in or abused their authority.’ And believe it or not, you can in fact write letters to the pope! If you include your phone number, he’s been known from time to time to call.

We are not powerless. Not because we are powerful in ourselves, but because we are fed by the Bread of Life. The Lord sees our desperation, He sees our sorrow – and He does not reject it or punish it but instead sends His only Son so that we might receive the food we need to make the journey. And we need to make that journey, calling people to accountability – even people of power – and inviting them to make come to the mountain of God.

I’ll say one other thing, and you can probably see it coming. Before we can worthily receive the Bread of Life, what do you need to do? Go to confession and make a good confession, especially if it’s been a long time (and we have a new priest here to whom you can make a confession without fear of him knowing you!). But make that good confession – because we need to be purified!

We all have our own imperfections, and we need to be cleansed of any anger or bitterness or malice – because those will not serve the Lord. It may come from a place of wounded-ness or betrayal, but that too must be purified. When we make our stand, when make our call to accountability, even to those in authority, we do it with trust and faith in God without any malice in our hearts.

We are God’s chosen people. He is calling us, and not to just stay here in Church. The final exhortation at the end of Mass – ‘go forth’ – means that we go out and convert the world, inviting others to share in this spiritual food, proclaiming the truth that is even where it is still proclaimed badly or lived poorly. But this is our opportunity at this Mass, to be refreshed so that we can do just that, telling the world that this is the food, this is the bread that will give us eternal life.

Footnotes:

1. Well, that turned out to be wrong! Apparently the origin of this saying is a mystery


Post script (a commentary I offered after all the Masses this weekend):

This may be a moment in history when the faithful are called to exhort the clergy, especially our bishops. You may be discerning if and how to write a letter to our archbishop or your local ordinary. I admit that I am fearful of having a parishioner write some sort of nastygram to a bishop with the justification of ‘Father Maurer said to give you a piece of my mind, so here I go!’. Not so fast, please.

If you write a letter, recall that it is another human being who is going to open it and read it – a human being with needs and feelings much like your own. Write with charity, with gentleness even (especially!) if you have hard things that you need to express. Kindness strengthens both your credibility and your message.

And do not ask for the impossible. Bishops do not have the power to investigate other bishops – this is written into Church law and has been done so for many good reasons. But bishops can hold each other accountable in other ways, and they can together request that pope take a more active and authoritative role in situations like these (such as empowering an independent review on his authority as pope). Support and exhortation for bishops to take this step is something we all can offer, though again, in charity and without malice.

Whether we reach out to a bishop or not, all of us can make a difference in simply reaching out in prayer. Foremost, pray for the victims of abuse, for their healing and for the support that they deserve & need. Pray for those members of the Church who are hurting – laity and clergy alike – who need support in the face of all of this. And let us take up fasting! All of us can make sacrifices, whether it be in food or some other form of abstinence. Each of us has the ability to call on God’s grace today and every day. Let’s be sure that we do just that, so that our Church may be purified and we might truly be a conduit of grace for a broken world.

Re-connecting to the Lord (re: incense, chant, & Latin)

In just a couple of days we will leave Ordinary Time, as briefly as we were in it!, and enter into the season of Lent in preparation for the season of Easter.

One of the things that marks the changing of the seasons are the changes of how we celebrate the Mass. While it is still the Mass in it’s substance, some of the elements are changed or omitted – the ‘alleluia’ just before the Gospel is replaced with a more subdued acclamation. Similarly, the Gloria is omitted throughout the season as we take on a more quiet and reflective tenor or tone to our prayer and worship.

There are three other elements that we are adding into the liturgies in our parishes, and I’d like to speak about them because they often bring with them frustration, consternation, or simply confusion. Why are we adding these in, what do they mean, what purpose do they serve?

These three things are: incense, chant, and Latin.

While I would discourage you from taking your understanding of the faith from Hollywood, I think you’ll find that if there is ever a scene involving the Catholic Church (funeral, wedding, whatnot), there will always be copious amounts of incense, someone will be chanting something at some point, and Latin will inevitably be included. The director may get everything wrong about what we believe, but these are clear signs to the viewer that this is a Catholic moment.

Now we’re more accustomed to these things, but even we might not know what they are all about, so I’d like to spend some time on them today.

To start, I’d like to start with the word ‘religion’, which can help us understand the purpose of these elements and all the elements of the Mass. I have to go back to Latin, so bear with me. The word ‘religion’ comes from two Latin words re and ligare. Ligare means ‘to connect’, which you might recognize as the foundation of the word ‘ligament’, which holds the members of our body together. So religion means to re-connect.

And what are we re-connecting? Well, we are re-connecting with ourselves and we are re-connecting with God. I don’t think it takes much for us to recognize the divisions that exist in our lives – within our communities, our families, and most especially with the world. There is brokenness all around us. Some of those divisions are ideological, some simple distance, some by choice, some by accident. We see this in Scriptures today in the division of those who are healthy (and presumed holy) and those who are ill (and presumed sinful).

We also need to re-connect, as one Body, with God. We need not go into much detail, but a faithful examination of conscience will quickly reveal how we are separated, divided, from God.

May I take this opportunity to also point out that one of the additions to our life of prayer are extra opportunities in Lent for confession. And if you haven’t been for a while, the invitation is open: come to confession.

So here we are, at Mass, as part of the Catholic religion, looking to re-connect with each other and God. What do incense, Latin, and chant have to do with that? They’re clearly not necessary for faithful prayer: I’m confident that very few, if any, use incense to pray in private, nor Latin, and probably not chant for the most part either.

But why does the Church put emphasize on these things?

Well, let’s start with incense – not the least because I am biased: I love incense! I think it’s the coolest thing in the world and in fact, I just purchased a sampler pack that we’ll be trying out at my parishes.

Incense comes from our practice in the Scriptures. If you read the book of Revelations, if you get past the trials & tribulations, you get to the vision of John the Evangelist’s vision of heaven. God the Father is sitting on his throne, surrounded by the multitude of saints dressed in white.

Saints are simply people like you and I who have been purified by the Blood of the Lamb and are at last in heaven. They’ve lived our life, suffered through sorrows like ours, and have died our death before receiving the eternal life they enjoy. St. John sees them before God, praising Him without end and interceding on our behalf. And he envisions those prayers being lifted up on incense before the glory of God.

If we look in the Old Testament, we see incense being used as well. And there especially we see an element of purification. As we smoke meat to cook it – or as in olden days smoke was thought to bring healing to sick persons – so we use incense to bless, to sanctify places, objects, and people. This is why incense is often perfumed, so that we both our sense of sight and smell are engaged.

So now to chant. What is that all about? Well, chant is just the spoken word put to music – but not just any words! We wouldn’t just enter into conversation and chant that at someone, possible though that may be. We would probably lose conversation partners at an amazing rate.

That said, we put to chant words, prayers, that we want to elevate, that we want to emphasize as having a holy character and purpose. We are essentially saying ‘this is an important thing’, as with the antiphons, the prayers of the Mass, the dialogue between the priest and the people. We’re not talking normally in these moments, we’re doing something extra-ordinary and so we elevate it by formalizing it in this special singing that is chant.

Finally, there is the use of Latin, and I know that this one is at times controversial – not least because most peoples around the world don’t speak Latin in any kind of day-to-day conversation. And yet, the Church has chosen Latin as Her official language, as the language of Catholics. This doesn’t mean you have to learn Latin wholesale, but it is the language that is meant to unify us in prayer.

There’s a practical aspect too, right? In our communities here in Lewis county we have at least two language-speaking communities at any given time – Spanish and English – to say nothing of other languages that may be spoken by others present. The result is that while language can be a source of pride, but also a source of division – not because we are against each other, but because we don’t have one common, worldwide language.

So, the Church responded by settling on one common language so that at for our prayer we can speak with one voice, a language for our faith. We may not have an extensive of grammar or vocabulary, but we know what the prayers mean. Take the Sanctus, offered before the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer. We know that ‘Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus’ means ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’.

Neat fact: Jesus probably spoke at least a little Latin because that was one of the languages of the time. He was Jewish, so He certainly spoke Hebrew. The culture of the time most likely spoke Aramaic, and the civil government spoken Latin – which most citizens would have had some reasonable grasp of in order to interact in secular society. We don’t use Latin solely for that reason, but it is neat to think that we have that connection.

Latin has endured throughout the years specifically it is a dead language, which admittedly sounds awful. I’m reminded of a ditty that someone taught me in seminary: “Latin is a dead language, as dead as it can be; it killed off all the Latins, and now it’s killing me.”

But what that means is that it is stable – the meaning of words is no longer evolving. I suspect we’ve all had words that meant one thing in one decade and have since changed to mean another now, sometimes even an opposing meaning. But Latin doesn’t have that pitfall and so the Church uses it as our common language of faith.

So why are these three things worth bringing up? If nothing else, it’s worth acknowledging that these particular elements often bring consternation, misunderstanding, or are simply difficult to integrate into our regular practice of prayer. We might even think ‘I want to do what the Church tells me, but this is hard!’. And that alone is worthy of attention – no one should feel as if they must shoulder that difficulty alone, without support.

So, we delve into these elements to see how they all serve a purpose – they assist in the function of religion, of re-connecting our diverse membership to each other, and us to the Lord. And the hope of the Church is that these common elements will bring us together. This is why we do the same thing at every Mass, following the command of Christ: “Do this in memory of Me”.

What held the disciples together? At first, it was Christ Himself, present bodily to them. And now, after His death, resurrection, and ascension, He has left us this memorial of His sacrifice – which is also His very Self, His Body & Blood offered in the Eucharistic celebration.

We have this common practice, this common action, that re-connects individuals, and individuals with Christ.

In a couple of days we will enter into Lent, and the liturgy will look different – we know this, having gone through this each year. And I very much want to encourage you: even if you struggle with the various elements, these or others, look at what the Church intends in our worship.

And what is it that She wants for us? The same thing that Christ wants for the leper. And while the leper who is divided from the community due to his visible infirmity, our divisions are not always so obvious. While the leper calls out ‘unclean, unclean!’, we have no practice of calling out our infirmities or divisions – just imagine what that’d look like! ‘I’m struggling with anger!’ or ‘I’m battling with lust’ or ‘I’ve fallen into despair’. No, we don’t do that.

But that is what Mass is for, that is what Christ and His Church wants for us: the unity of the Body of Christ and the unification with the Body to Christ.

As we enter into this season, may we ask the Lord to heal us, to cure us, to unite us. That He may to use these elements, even ones that are alien, foreign or uncomfortable for our benefit. That they might serve us to achieve that re-connection, that we might one day be saints too, joining those gathered before the throne of God, to intercede for those yet separated from the Lord, that we may even now participate in that unending, eternal praise of Christ.

[February 20, 2018 – additional references]

For anyone who is interested in learning about the liturgy, the documents below are invaluable resources. After all of the Masses I preached this homily, these were mentioned and included in the pastor’s notes – I’m sorry I didn’t initially include them in my post here online. They’re not especially long (20-30 pages) and do not require a theological background to read & understand. They’re both both for teaching and reflection and I highly recommend them:

Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) – the first document of Vatican II and a defining teaching on what the liturgy means for the Church

Musicam Sacram (Instruction on Music in the Liturgy) – the music document commission after Vatican II to follow up on Sacrosanctum Concilium, specifically addressing how to implement its directions in the area of liturgical music

General Instruction of the Roman Missal – this contains the directions of the ‘how’ to offer the Mass. It addresses almost every ordinary celebration of the Mass (pontifical Mass, for example, are not addressed here) and is a wonderful reference for the ‘how’ of the Mass.

I would highlight #24 of the General Instruction, which binds a priests – who have made a public promise of obedience to the Church and its laws – to follow the rubrics of the Mass: “The priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (1066 and onwards) – The section covers all of the sacraments and then some, so it may be wise to pick where your focus will be, but the opening paragraphs are especially useful in laying out our understanding of what liturgical prayer is and means.

Dupes for brussels sprouts & Jesus (September 3, 2017)

Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh
Jesus Christ, incarnate by the Holy Spirit
Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary
Jesus Christ, baptized by John in the Jordan
Jesus Christ, beginning His ministry at Cana
Jesus Christ, healing the sick and rebuking demons
Jesus Christ, forgiving the sinner
Jesus Christ, persecuted
Jesus Christ, celebrating the Last Supper
Jesus Christ, arrested
Jesus Christ, suffering
Jesus Christ, crucified
Jesus Christ, suffering death
Jesus Christ, entombed for three days
Jesus Christ, risen from the dead
Jesus Christ, sending breathing on the Apostles
Jesus Christ, ascending into heaven
Jesus Christ, sending His Holy Spirit
Jesus Christ, returning in glory
Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father

Letting the name of Jesus Christ settle into our hearts this morning, I’d like to turn for a moment to a more mundane topic, though it’s near to my heart too: brussels sprouts.

The reason I bring them up is that I see a pretty clear connection with Jesus. See, I love brussels sprouts. It starts with my father and a dish that he has prepared at our family Thanksgiving celebration for as long as I can remember. It’s fairly simple: obviously you start with brussels sprouts, along with broccoli and cauliflower. You boil them for just under ten minutes and then toss them in a sauce made up of butter, honey-Dijon mustard, lemon juice, marjoram, garlic, capers, along with a touch of salt & pepper.

It’s my favorite vegetable dish. In fact, it’s so popular in our family that all of us regularly insist not only that it be made at Thanksgiving, but that it be made several times throughout the year. I’ve grown up with a special fondness of brussels sprouts as a result.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that brussels sprouts aren’t actually a popular vegetable. Some folks outright refuse to touch them, with one of my friends referring to them as ‘stinky feet’. I guess that’s a reference to how they think they smell?2

It turns out that my father has gotten me – has gotten our whole family – into loving the most disliked vegetable out there. I’ve been tricked!

The prophet Jeremiah has a similar moment in today’s reading: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”

Jeremiah has reason to be frustrated. If we go back to his call to be a prophet, we are reminded of his original hesitant response: ‘I don’t know about this Lord – I don’t know how to speak. I’m too young!’ To which, the Lord replies simply: ‘Don’t tell me you’re too young. You’ll go where I send you and say what I command. And I will put my words in your mouth!’

So Jeremiah does what the Lord asks – and finds it to be both easy to do and hard to take. He does indeed preach the Truth, but time and time again, those to whom he is proclaiming God’s will reject Jeremiah, rebuke him, persecute him. And so Jeremiah questions, wonders what God is doing.

We don’t get off lightly ourselves. In fact, at baptism we are anointed not in one ministry but in three – as priest, prophet, and king – according to the threefold ministry of Christ Himself. In some ways, Jeremiah had it easy compared us!

“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” – darn straight! These could be the words of any Christian, wondering at what God is doing with us, to us.

Lord, I’m too young, too old, too sinful, too weak, too afraid. Lord, I just don’t know what to say.

And yet, the Lord reassures us as He reassured Jeremiah: “Before you were formed in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” And Christ Himself reassures us: “….do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.”

And the Lord has put His word into our mouths – the Word made flesh, incarnate by the Holy Spirit, baptized by John in the Jordan, Who began His ministry at Cana, Who healed the sick and rebuking demons, Who forgave the sinner, Who was persecuted, Who celebrated the Last Supper, Who was arrested, Who suffered, died, and rose again, Who breathed on the Apostles, Who sent His Holy Spirit, Who will return in glory, Who is seated at the right hand of the Father.

That Word is Jesus, Who will be placed into our mouths right here at this Mass. Jesus is the first Word, the last Word, the only Word that we need.

It is so tempting to dwell in hesitancy, in worry, in fear of God’s call. Saint Peter himself, along with the Apostles, was overcome with the fearful lies that Satan whispers in each of our hearts.

And so we call on the name of Jesus – to rebuke Satan as He did in that moment on Peter’s behalf, now asking Him to rebuke Satan’s whispered discouragement to us. In Jesus name we renounce the lie that we are too young, that we are too old, that we are too sinful, that we are too weak, that we can be controlled by fear. Let us focus not on the lies of Satan, but on the name of Jesus.

And let us receive the Word made flesh, made present in this Mass at this altar. Let that Word be the only one we rely on, that we proclaim, in which we put our trust. Let us receive the Word that nourishes us and proclaim His goodness to a world that desperately thirsts without knowing why. Let us proclaim the one Word that has the power to fulfill every desire: Jesus Christ.

(For those who might be interested, I offer for your enjoyment Father Maurer’s father’s brussels sprouts dish!)


  1. My friend has since corrected me – she calls them ‘stinky toes’, alluding to her impression of both the sight & smell of brussels sprouts.

Our weakness, God’s abundance (August 27, 2017)

Today’s antiphon for the beginning of the Mass reads “Turn your ear, O Lord, and answer me; save the servant who trusts in you, my God. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry to you all the day long.”

I’d like to start this homily by sharing a story with you that relates to this antiphon in particular, and it starts with this little thing I’m holding in my hand – an oil stock.

You all are aware that every Holy Thursday the (arch)bishop blesses the oils that are used throughout the year. There is the Oil of Catechumens which is used for those to be baptized, there is the Sacred Chrism which is used at baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations, and there is the Oil of the Infirm, which is used to anoint the sick.

Most of us priests have what are called oil stocks, which is this little metal container that has a little cotton swab soaked with the latter oil – if you were to look closely you could see the little ‘OI’ engraved in this oil stock. We carry these around, usually in our cars or our pockets for the emergency call or request from a parishioner.

This particular oil stock has a special significance for me, because it was given to me under special circumstances that I’d like to share with you.

The story of this oil stock starts back at my first pastorship, at the parishes of Saint Joseph and Holy Rosary in Tacoma [Washington]. If you’ve ever drive up I-5, you’ll see near the Tacoma Dome a giant steep just south of the dome – that’s Holy Rosary parish. Four blocks south of Holy Rosary is Saint Joseph parish, where I also lived (we had nuns living at the rectory of Holy Rosary).

Let me just say, the commute was awesome! Quite a difference from my current assignment where my commute from end-to-end was closer to 100 miles.

The two parishes were great communities and fairly old in comparison to many of the churches in our archdiocese. Both communities were over a hundred years old, with the buildings being around the same age. Built in the gothic style, these are impressing buildings, with arches that go on forever, stained glass windows brought from Europe, and a classical beauty in the altars, statues, and architecture in general.

However, that kind of age doesn’t come without some history – and the burdens that may have been picked up along the way. Holy Rosary had over half a million dollars in debt, struggled mightily to make ends meet, and the building was old.

Here in Lewis county, we know about rain and the devastation that so much water can wreak. In Tacoma this generally isn’t as urgent as we don’t get that kind of volume there in flat land. But old buildings are, well, old, and a few years ago we had pretty big rains. To boot, at that time I was a fairly new pastor, still getting my feet wet (hah!).

Around the same time, a dear friend from seminary – who had discerned that God was calling him not to the priesthood but to married life – asked me to baptize the second of his four daughters in Everett at the end of the weekend. This was the weekend that the rains hit, pouring down all weekend.

Now church design seems to have gone through a phase where there was a principle that nothing should be placed on the outside of the church so that nothing would mar the outside appearance of the building. So instead of having gutters and drain pipes around the roof and down the side of the building, the walkway of the tower was lined with special material that would direct rain water to a drain and pipe that went down the center of the tower. The pipe would go down the middle of the tower and then exit through the wall at the bottom of the tower to finally carry water away from the building. This system worked well for about 80 years.

And then, at this parish that had significant debt and no money to speak of – on a day I was about to drive 100 miles to baptize my best friend’s child – it failed.

The first sign that something wasn’t right was a call through our parish emergency line. I’ve got this set up to ring to my phone with a big red cross on the screen, which always gets my heart pumping. It’s our alarm company, calling to alert me that there is a fire alarm (and possibly a fire) in the library in my church….which is located at the base of the tower.

Rushing all four blocks to the church, I barrel into the building. Thankfully there is no smoke and apparently no flames. Making my way to the back of the church to the library, I open the door and …. splash. I step into inches of water. There are inches of water covering the entire floor.

Looking up, I see that the ceiling tiles are coming down – but hanging from two wires, along which water is streaming down before falling to the floor, is the fire alarm that had shorted out after sending a false alarm to our company.

I’m just looking in disbelief at the room. I follow in the footsteps in carpenter, but I don’t know to fix any of this! So I call parishioners, beg and plead a number of them to come help place buckets and move what might be saved. A very gracious contractor even came and climbed the tower to assess the problem! No small task this, as the ladders are not a little sketchy – just before Jesus ascended He told the disciples “I expect the ladders at Holy Rosary to be replaced before I get back” ….. I guess the good news is that we still have time? But this contractor braved them nonetheless and effected a temporary fix.

Satisfied that at least we have temporary reprieve, I go off to celebrate the baptism of my friend’s baptism. Coming home the next home, I brace myself to face the music. And what a cacophony it was – the smaller church, built with the same design principle, had the same flaw and had also suffered a catastrophic leak.

So we spend go through weeks going through insurance claims, dealing with repair bids, assessing the extent of the water damage, heaters, blowers, and sealed off areas while it all gets fixed. But praise God, after all that, it is all fixed.

And the week after it gets fixed, the rains come back – not as bad as the first time, but pretty darn bad. And now conscious of how this could go, I am paying attention throughout the entire Mass, listening for any telltale sound of dripping. I was relieved by the end of the weekend to find that everything seemed to be fine.

On Monday, I am awakened to a phone call. This time, it wasn’t on the emergency line, but nonetheless it is from my groundskeeper at the smaller church. My groundskeeper at this smaller (still poor) church is a faithful woman, but 80-hundred years old: she’s not fixing anything. And she has a request:

“Father would you check the garbage can in the choir loft?”

“what do you mean?”

“Well, didn’t you hear the dripping during Mass?”

“[sigh]….no”

“you need to go up there, Father – it was dripping the whole time”

So I go up into the church, and sure enough there is a garbage can in the choir loft – just above a river of water that is flowing down the steps. The can had indeed caught all of the water – that had subsequently drained out a small hole a few inches above the bottom of it.

I have to admit that I had a bit of a melt-down right there with God. I want to say that we had words, but really, I had words – words that aren’t really repeatable in a homily.
Of course, the water is still there and needs cleaned up, so I go into the rectory and gather every towel in my possession while calling my secretary to cancel all the appointments of the day. Upon returning to the church, I open the door to see white footprints, about my size, that had been tracked from the choir loft to the door.

The paint on the floor of the loft – softened and liquified from the sitting water – had adhered to my shoes and was providing a clear path marking where I had walked out of the church.

….. cue more words that can’t be repeated.

So I get it all cleaned up, throw the towels in the washing machine, change my clothes (clean my shoes), and go down to the office, a complete wreck. The nuns at Holy Rosary call somewhere in the midst of this to report several small leaks at the rectory and oh by the way, the Holy Rosary church had some water issues again too.

If you’ve ever worked at a church you know that if the priest suffers, you’re suffering too. Because I’m calling around to get things fixed, my staff are calling everyone, and I’ve cancelled all my appointments except for one.

This particular appointment was made because a longtime and dear parishioner had passed away some time prior and his sister was handling the estate. He had some pretty significant medical and financial difficulties before he died and she was looking for some support.

So she comes in, and the first thing she does is hand me a box of religious items that had been recovered from among his belongings. Unsure of how they were supposed to be disposed of, she was hoping that I could do that for her, which I was happy to do.

And then she tells me that things are actually going quite better than when the appointment was originally made – the hospital bills were negotiated down and the house sold for more than anticipated. And Hal (the name of the deceased parishioner) had directed that if there was any money left over, a certain percentage would go to the church. This was a rather pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t expecting much as Hal wasn’t especially wealthy.

She writes a check and hands it to me – it’s for $34,000. And I look at her and said “Miriam, I think you’ve made a mistake.” ….which she assumes is an accusation of holding back, so she pulls out this big ledger and starts to justify the amount on the check. To which I quickly assure her: “no, no – I think you added a zero!”.
She calms down and explains that it turns out that Hal had more than expected and that this was the amount according to the percentage that he had set, it was to go to whatever needs the parish had. And shortly thereafter we ended our meeting and she left, me sitting there afterwards in stunned silence.

If this is what God gives when I curse at Him – twice – I wonder what it would be like if I just trusted Him?

So I, well, I played a little prank on my secretary, who was frantically calling around. I put the check face down on her desk and left so as to not interrupt here. And then I sat in my office and waited. Sure enough, the little red light on my phone blinks off as she hangs up and I hear as she picks up the check “FATHER MAURER IS THIS REAL?!?!” (“Yes it is, and you’ll be off to deposit that right now.”)

That one gift, that one response of the Lord, covered the nuns’ roof replacement, helped out with the leak at Holy Rosary, and helped us with a budget shortfall in that year (Saint Joseph’s insurance came through especially well for even the second leak).

This oil stock that I carry came from that box of religious goods of Hals, and I carry it with me as a reminder of that day, of this lesson: that the Lord does hear us when we cry out to Him.

All of that to ask you this question: how is that going for you?

I’m confident that I’m not alone in having those moments when I stand before the Lord and question what is going, what we’re doing. I still wonder this at times! Especially in light of my age and the great responsibilities of pastorship, I often joke with my staff “whose dumb idea was this?”.

I suspect many of us have that thought in our own lives – who thought up this putting me in charge of my work, of my family, of the souls of my spouse and children? What are you doing Lord that I should be in this position?

We can see this even with Saint Peter! When we look at the disciples we see a collection of guys who, well, they weren’t the brightest of bulbs. They were fishermen, so they weren’t well-educated to start off with, though dedicated and faithful to a degree. And Peter especially just didn’t get it. Every time that Peter opens his mouth and speaks to the Lord, he’s kind of like that kid in school who would raise his hand and everyone else thinks ‘here we go…’.

And so many time this proves to be true. Peter sees Jesus and asks Him to invite Him onto the water (which He does) and then he starts to sink, Jesus explains His Passion and Peter decries it so vehemently that Jesus has to rebuke him (“get behind me, Satan”), and even at the Last Supper when Jesus speaks of His death Peter gets a special warning of the trial he is to face – and Peter not only abandons Christ along with the rest of the disciples but goes on to indeed deny Christ three times.

And what does Jesus do when He returns? “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church”

…. ‘are you sure about this?’

And yet, Jesus sticks with that. While we may not be the foundation of the Church (Peter gets to keep that role!), we are indeed the foundation of our own lives, of the life that Christ has entrusted to us. And we do feel that way from time to time – ‘this is too much, it’s overwhelming, how is this going to work?’

I wonder if the Lord doesn’t put in charge, give us these responsibilities to emphasize first of all His trust in us: “I give you this not to test you, not to try you, but because I want you to know that I believe in you, I know you to be good, I know you can accomplish my will.”

And for the second reason: “Because I will support you – even as you are weak, I am strong. And if you allow me to fill you in your life, to be present to you, to send you even unknowingly and unwittingly these gives, you will be a firm foundation, you will build up in your life a beautiful structure that will glorify Me.”

So I ask you again: how is that going for you? Where are you in that story?

Maybe you have stories like I do with this oil stock, maybe you’re still crying out to the Lord, maybe you don’t know how to cry out to the Lord or fear that if you do, it will go unanswered.

I’d like to offer that encouragement to you, that the antiphon and its psalm does offer to us today, to cry out to the Lord even right here in the Mass, especially in the petitions and at the altar.

‘Lord I want to do the good things you ask of me, I want to treasure the gifts of my life, my family, my friends, my vocation. But it’s a lot, Lord. Please give me what I need! Help me so that I might do well, and glorify your name’
The Lord does hear the cry of all, not just the poor or the rich, but all of us. May we at this very Mass today pour out ourselves to the Lord – and perhaps find to our delight that the Lord not only chooses those who are weak, but also supports them.

May we cry out to the Lord, that He might have mercy on us, that He might shower us with gifts, and in glorifying our lives, He might glorify us and demonstrate through us His glory to not only us but to all those in need.

Letting our desires be our prayers (homily – Dec. 18, 2016)

Happy Advent! Though it doesn’t quite roll of the tongue as well as other greetings, we are indeed joyful as we enter this final week of preparation for Christ’s Nativity. We’ve now entered into the octave before Christmas, with special prayers as well as antiphons (the “Oh antiphons” to Mary), as we get ready.

One of the joys of priestly and religious life is the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, a set of daily prayers offered at different hours of the day (thus the name) every day. One of the hours, the Office of Readings, not only includes the psalms and other selections from Sacred Scripture but also selections from the Church fathers. Last Thursday’s text was from Saint Augustine and I’d like to share it in it’s entirety:

From a discourse on the Psalms by Saint Augustine, Bishop
The desire of your heart constitutes your prayer

In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. There is a hidden anguish which is inaudible to men. Yet when a man’s heart is so taken up with some particular concern that the hurt inside finds vocal expression, one looks for the reason. And one will say to oneself: perhaps this is what causes his anguish, or perhaps such and such had happened to him. But who can be certain of the cause except God, who hears and sees his anguish? Therefore the psalmist says: In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. For if men hear at all, they usually hear only bodily groaning and know nothing of the anguish of the heart from which it issues.

Who then knows the cause of man’s groaning? All my desire is before you. No, it is not open before other men, for they cannot understand the heart; but before you is all my desire. If your desire lies open to him who is your Father and who sees in secret, he will answer you.

For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing. Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? Is this what is meant in saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.

Yet there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless. therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire.

The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer. And that voice of your prayer will be silent only when your love ceases. For who are silent? Those of whom it is said: Because evil has abounded, the love of many will grow cold.

The chilling of love means that the heart is silent; while burning love is the outcry of the heart. If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always; if you always cry out, you are always desiring; and if you desire, you are calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.

And all my desire is before you. What if the desire of our heart is before him, but not our groaning? But how is that possible, since the groaning is the voice of our desire? And therefore it is said: My groaning is not concealed from you. It may be concealed from men, but it is not concealed from you. Sometimes God’s servant seems to be saying in his humility: My anguish is not concealed from you. At other times he seems to be laughing. Does that mean that the desire of his heart has died within him? If the desire is there, then the groaning is there as well. Even if men fail to hear it. it never ceases to sound in the hearing of God.

I don’t know how that strikes you, but I imagine I’m not alone in finding Advent to be a mixed blessing. Oh it’s wonderful, to be sure – I delight in the Christmas music (year-round, in fact!), the festive decorations, and the little traditions that our family has for the season.

But Advent is also a pressure cooker, pretty much starting from Thanksgiving and running through Christmas. We’re making preparations, setting up those festive decorations, hosting other people, cooking, preparing rooms, buying presents (and there’s always that one hard-to-please relative!), and…. the list goes.

Dear God, please let it be done!

Of course it’s all blessing, and we are joyful & grateful for both the Advent season and Christ’s Nativity. But I know that for myself, this extra tension allows to surface the problems that during the rest of the year, I can convince myself are under control. Worries, anxieties, frustrations, sins – they’re suddenly much harder to deal with.  “Pray always”? How am I supposed to do that in the middle of all of this?!?

And then along comes St. Augustine with this assertion – that our desires are prayers.

As if to confirm this, the reading given to us for today from Isaiah has this amazing conversation between Ahaz and God. The Lord says “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!”. And Ahaz answers in a way that resonates deeply with me:

‘Yeah….I’m not gonna trust that. No way – not doing it.’

Even God’s response is relateable, as exasperated, He basically throws His grace and gift not only to Ahaz, but to all of mankind:

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel.

How much the Lord wants to hear and answer the desires of our hearts, the longings that we hold within! And while we struggle to keep them hidden, to avoid putting them to words, we meanwhile wonder how to pray, what is the ‘right’ way to present ourselves to God, and question if we’re worthily presenting ourselves to Him.

And this is what the prophet Isaiah and Saint Augustine are addressing – and what the Nativity of the Lord is all about: that God wants to speak to the desires of our heart.

The word ‘desire’ has been twisted in modern times, given the a salacious tenor, and associated with sin – most often tied to sex and commercialism. But every desire, every longing, is rooted in God, starts with the knowledge that I am lacking something and need to be filled from the Source of goodness.

How has Advent been for you? Maybe it’s been good, maybe it’s been a struggle – perhaps you find yourself echoing the doubt of Ahaz amid the invitations of the season: ‘I’m not so sure….this feels selfish, unworthy, unacceptable to God.’

Again and again, the Lord gently offers the invitation to trust Him, to place ourselves unabashedly in His presence, to open our hearts to Him – and to receive the wonders He has prepared for us, wonders beyond our imagining.

This Sunday marks the second day of the octave before Christmas. What are your longings, your desires? How can the Lord answer your prayers? Maybe they’re specific, maybe inarticulate – but that unsettledness is the very prayer the Lord hopes to hear.

Come, let rest in God. Let us we ask Him to speak to our desires, to give us the confidence to present them without fear trusting that even if they are imperfect He will transform them and make them fruitful, and that we may receive Christ, Emmanuel, the answer to prayerful desires.

Holy Desire, holy prayer

This was something I needed to read recently. Perhaps it will be consoling to you as well. Blessings as we enter the octave before Christmas.


From a discourse on the Psalms by Saint Augustine, Bishop
The desire of your heart constitutes your prayer

In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. There is a hidden anguish which is inaudible to men. Yet when a man’s heart is so taken up with some particular concern that the hurt inside finds vocal expression, one looks for the reason. And one will say to oneself: perhaps this is what causes his anguish, or perhaps such and such had happened to him. But who can be certain of the cause except God, who hears and sees his anguish? Therefore the psalmist says: In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. For if men hear at all, they usually hear only bodily groaning and know nothing of the anguish of the heart from which it issues.

Who then knows the cause of man’s groaning? All my desire is before you. No, it is not open before other men, for they cannot understand the heart; but before you is all my desire. If your desire lies open to him who is your Father and who sees in secret, he will answer you.

For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing. Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? Is this what is meant in saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.

Yet there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless. therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease to desire.

The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer. And that voice of your prayer will be silent only when your love ceases. For who are silent? Those of whom it is said: Because evil has abounded, the love of many will grow cold.

The chilling of love means that the heart is silent; while burning love is the outcry of the heart. If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always; if you always cry out, you are always desiring; and if you desire, you are calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.

And all my desire is before you. What if the desire of our heart is before him, but not our groaning? But how is that possible, since the groaning is the voice of our desire? And therefore it is said: My groaning is not concealed from you. It may be concealed from men, but it is not concealed from you. Sometimes God’s servant seems to be saying in his humility: My anguish is not concealed from you. At other times he seems to be laughing. Does that mean that the desire of his heart has died within him? If the desire is there, then the groaning is there as well. Even if men fail to hear it. it never ceases to sound in the hearing of God.

Honest to God (homily – Nov. 20, 2016)

Today the Church celebrates the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. Though New Years is still a little ways away, we are celebrating the new liturgical year next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent. This Sunday marks the last Sunday of ordinary time and even has a special solemnity assigned to it: the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

The Church has in mind for us to not only look at the end of the year, but also the end of all time, and the end of our lives. Keeping in mind all the mysteries we have celebrated over the liturgical year – Christ’s birth, life, passion, death and resurrection – we consider His return in glory Likewise keeping in mind the entirety of our lives, we consider that day when we will be called to meet Him face to face as king.

Some years ago I was in Mexico and had the chance to visit several old convents and monasteries that, though out of use, were preserved as monuments for both visiting and prayer. While I was there, I noticed something I had never seen before – over the doors leading out of the convent there were etched a skull and crossbones. Up to that point, my experience with that particular symbol was limited to pirate ships….not something generally associated with religious life!

It turns out that the skull and crossbones is attached to a phrase: memento mori (“remember death’). This isn’t meant to be a depressing or scary thing, but rather a reminder that any day could be the day God calls us home. Those walking through those doors were being given a visual reminder to be ready, to live such that death wouldn’t catch them off guard.

This is the sentiment the Church hopes to elicit for us as we celebrate today’s solemnity. …..how’s that going for you?

This week I came across a blog post that relayed a story of a priest. The blogger was talking about how this priest was praying in the chapel. Now we know what that is supposed to look – that our prayers should be edifying, they should be respectful, they should be holy – that we return the gifts and love we have been given to the Lord.

So this priest goes into the chapel, knowing that this is the way he is expected to pray. But however he is doing, whatever is happening in his life, it’s not true for him. We don’t know the particulars of his story, except to say that he can’t do it. So he says what’s on his heart.

“Jesus, I don’t love you.”

And this becomes his prayer. Every day he goes into the chapel and says what’s on his heart: “Jesus, I don’t love you”. He does this for a year and a half….until one day he comes to the chapel and realizes that it wasn’t true anymore. He could present himself honestly and be accepted honestly, and God worked through it with him.2

This is how we get ready for the day when we stand before the Lord: presenting ourselves to Him and saying “this is where I’m at”. Maybe today you’re doing great and where you’re at is total readiness to surrender to God. Perhaps you’re distracted and can’t wait for this homily to be done so you can finally have that bacon that is waiting for you at home. Maybe you came in and the burden of the last week and the coming week are weighing you down mightily. Where ever you are at this moment, the Lord wants to hear about it right now.

It’s telling that on this Sunday, we would hear the Gospel of Jesus on the Cross, the last moments before His death. Almost the entirety of the Gospel focuses on those who are jeering, mocking, and insulting Him – rulers, soldiers, even one of those crucified alongside Jesus. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.”

Did you ever notice how throughout the Gospels, Christ never rebukes anyone – anyone! – for speaking to Him disrespectfully? Of all the people who could say ‘you can’t talk to me like that’, Jesus has the most legitimate claim to indignation. And yet, He always receives what is given to Him, even mockery. Jesus wants us to be authentic, to give ourselves as we are.

I wonder what would have happened if the rulers, the soldiers, and that man on the cross had made a habit of coming to Jesus regularly with their disbelief and mockery. What would that have looked like? What healing and conversion might have come about from being accepted even in the apparently ugly honest of doubt and jeers?

We see Christ’s response to that kind of frank honest in that one thief on the other side, who rebukes the mocking thief and makes that key plea of remembrance. His amazing response is what we are left with at the end of the Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

How many of us desire to hear those very words, to be affirmed by Christ Himself, clearly chosen to be with Him in heaven?

How do we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ the King? We start by doing it right here and now: to be before the Lord in church, in the car, at work, at home, wherever and say ‘Lord this is me, this is how I am right now. ….will you accept me as I am?’

We are looking to mock or jeer or insult the Lord, but sometimes we have harsh things to say. And may we not be afraid to say even those things to Jesus, because He wants to hear everything we have to say. This is the only way we will be healed and converted: if we invite Christ into every part of who we are.

Today we celebrate the kingship of Christ at the end of this liturgical year. And thank God, we start over again – practice makes perfect and we’ve got practice aplenty with our liturgical cycle! May we end this year and begin the next with total honesty to God. Praising the good, presenting the bad, but giving it all to Him.

May we make ourselves constantly honest with the Lord, and presenting ourselves to Him every day. Then, when the day comes that we stand before Jesus, it will be like every day because we’ve been doing it our entire lives – and there we might here those same words: ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’.


  1. This was actually a story told twice, originally by Joseph Prever at www.stevegershom.com and slightly more recently by Simcha Fisher at www.simchafisher.com. Both posts are excellent – and the blogs are worth visiting on a regular basis!