Archive for January, 2011

True Humility

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Zeph 2: 3; 3: 12-13; 1 Cor 1: 26-; Mt 5: 1-12a

Dc. Larry Brockman

 

When St. Augustine was asked to name the three most important virtues, he gave an interesting answer:   First, he said, humility; second, humility; third, humility.  Humility is God’s favorite thing; he longs to find it in us.  But just what is humility.   

There are all kinds of interesting stories about truly humble people.  Here is just one:  It seems there was a cocky, successful, young French businessman traveling by train to Paris, many years ago.  He was sharing a compartment with on old man who looked like a peasant – simple clothes, short hair, and a weather-beaten face.  The up-and-coming businessman noticed the rosary gripped in the old man’s hands, and the devotion and concentration expressed on his face.  The young man thought he would have some fun, so he said, “I see that you still believe in that medieval bunk about praying your beads.   Do you also believe in all the other myths the priests try to teach us?”  “Yes, indeed”, the old man answered, “Don’t you?”  “Me? Do I believe in all that ridiculous superstition”?   The young man laughed out loud; then he said:   “I gave that up in college.  And if you want to be smart, you should throw those beads out the window and start studying some real, scientific truth.”  The old man answered,   “I don’t understand what you mean. Maybe you could help me”.  The young whippersnapper felt he had been a little harsh, so he answered,   “Well, I could send you some articles, if you like.  Do you know how to read”?  “More or less”, the old man answered.  “Good – so where should I send the material?”  The old man fumbled in his coat pocket and then handed over a card.  It bore a simple inscription:   Louis Pasteur – Paris Institute for Scientific Research.   

Clearly Louis Pasteur’s humility didn’t hinder his greatness.  So, humility is not shying away from and denying ones talents.   Rather what true humility is can be understood by discovering the unifying idea that undergirds the eight Beatitudes, which we just heard, and which summarize Jesus’ teaching about how to live.   Looking carefully, we see a common denominator: The person who is blessed is the person who is not thinking about himself all the time. The poor in spirit and those who suffer persecution  They gracefully realize that they are not the center of the universe – God is.  The clean of heart realize that other people don’t exist just for the sake of their pleasure.  The peacemaker is concerned about the needs and problems of others.  The merciful is concerned about the suffering of others.  The mournful is concerned about the damage his sin does to the Church, the world, and other people.  The meek care more about getting things done than getting credit for doing things.  Those who hunger for righteousness realize that their life has a higher purpose, that it’s part of a bigger story.  So, underlying all the Beatitudes is this fundamental attitude that puts God and others ahead of self.  It looks out at the world instead of staring in, fixated on self.   

Now if the essence of humility is thinking more about God and others than about oneself,   Growing in humility means training ourselves to do just that, and it is a life-long project.  Prayer is essential here, by turning our attention towards God.  Reading the Bible is essential as well, because it presents us with Christ’s perfect example of humility.  But I want to talk about one other way to express our humility:  Praying for the souls in Purgatory.  Something all of us need to realize is that very, very, few people die so full of the Love of Christ that they are ready to see the face of God.  Rather, most of us die without having been completely purified from our self-centered habits and desires, no matter how old we have gotten.  If we die in friendship with Christ, we will enter eternal life with him in heaven.   But we can’t make that entry until the last remnants of self-centeredness have been purified.  Purgatory is the name the Church gives to that process of purification.  The Church has also taught us that we can pray for the souls in Purgatory, and we can even help speed up their purification.   We can help the souls in Purgatory, relieving their suffering and speeding up their entry into heaven, in many ways.  Simply lifting our hearts to God, and offering our daily sufferings up for the souls in purgatory will help them, if we desire it.  Certain prayers, like an act of faith, the Rosary, or the Creed, can be offered up in this way as well.  Teaching someone about Christ or Christian doctrine, doing an act of kindness with a spirit of faith, or giving up a small pleasure (like sugar in our coffee, or salt on our French Fries), are all actions that we can offer up for someone else.  So, like a good mother, the Church has made it easy for us to help our brothers and sisters in Purgatory.  And whenever we do, we are opening our hearts to God and to others, thereby exercising the pivotal virtue of humility, the key to holiness and happiness.   

This week, let’s give God the pleasure of doing our part to grow in his favorite thing, humility.[1]



[1] Homily material taken extensively from e-priest notes for January 30th, 2011

Be a Joiner, not a Loner

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Ordinary Time

Heb 10: 19-25; Mk 4: 21-25

Dc. Larry Brockman

This morning, Paul said to the Hebrews:  “We should not stay away from our assembly”.  That really caught my eye because someone sent me an interesting story, called “The Silent Sermon”.  That story addresses very well why we should not stay away from our assembly.  It seems a woman complained to her pastor that her husband had stopped going to Church.  The husband said that he talked to God all the time, and didn’t need to go to Church any more.  The pastor promised to visit her husband, which he did.  The husband let him in, and had him take a seat by the fire.  Before any conversation could begin, the pastor bent over to pick up the tongs next to the fire, and lifted a sizable red hot ember, which he placed out towards the edge of the fireplace.  Soon, the ember was coal black.  The Pastor got out of the chair, nodded to the husband, and headed for the door.  As the husband closed the door, he said to the pastor:  “I’ll be back at Church next week pastor.” 

I don’t know about you, but I need the common fellowship, reinforcement of values, and general air of civility, that this assembly at Holy Family provides, especially on Sundays.  Our secular, dog-eat-dog, turbulent society fills my week, and I need to come home to the assembly to both get warm, and keep warm in the faith.  That is why one of the six Church Laws says that we must make Mass each Sunday; yet, the motivation for attending ought to be the one the Silent Sermon implies- that all of us need each other to reinforce our Christian Commitment, to stay “super hot”, and keep the fire of Faith burning in our hearts.   

And I am convinced that it is even more important that we be fed by the Assembly more than once a week because we can sometimes get into a mode of listening to Mass, and then running out the door without any other contact.  Yet, just like the fire in the fireplace, the ember only stays hot if the assembled logs and embers work together continuously.   

I know it’s kind of a different interpretation of the meaning of the lamp hidden under the basket, but the Gospel story can be interpreted to reinforce this idea as well.  You see, each of us has something to add to our assembly like a talent, a special insight, or an energy that complements the needs of the assembly.  When the whole assembly works together, they can do great things on behalf of God.  But when our energy or talent or special insight is hidden- isolated from our neighbors- then it is lost to its higher purpose, lost to the work specially carved out for us as an assembly.  Not only that, but the concept of “use it or lose it” applies as well.  When our gifts are kept isolated, they may wane, even die out, fulfilling Jesus’ prediction that those who have, will get more; whereas those who have little will lose what they already have.   

What does all of this mean for you and I?  Simply that we were meant to do things as a group; not just to use our talents in isolation.  So, if you are not already involved with your assembly, then get involved.  Be a joiner; not a loner. 

A Quake in the Body of Christ

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

 

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Is 8: 23- 9: 3; 1 Cor 1: 10-13, 17; Mt 4: 12-23

Dc. Larry Brockman

 

A year or two ago, some of our public figures, who call themselves Catholic, made public statements about abortion.  I recall one person in particular who quoted St. Thomas Aquinas out of context in order to defend the pro-choice position on abortion.  Their comment received all kinds of attention in the press.  Their comment did significant damage to the unity of the Body of Christ.  How so? Well, first, using their authority as a public figure, this person attempted to make a blatantly incorrect position on Church teaching sound legitimate;  second, this person gave the secular media a wedge to use in undermining our Church’s doctrine on abortion; and third, this person offered false shelter to others who don’t like the official teaching of the Church, especially Catholics.  I remember feeling a quake in the unity of the body of Christ. 

Such behavior for a public figure should not be taken lightly.  Perhaps that’s why Church Law, or Canon Law, has a provision in it that persons in the public eye who publicly take a position against an important Church Doctrine, like Abortion, are excommunicated from the Church.  In an effort to contain the damage, the Church did not escalate the matter.  Yet. this example demonstrates all too clearly that things have not changed since Paul wrote to the Corinthians,  Because today, the Body of Christ is still plagued by divisions, and these divisions do harm to the Body of Christ. 

This morning, we find ourselves at the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision of January 22, 1972 legalizing Abortion in this country.  Father Ennis has asked that we talk about Respect Life issues this morning at all the Masses.  In accordance with St. Paul’s teaching, it is essential that as a Church and as a Parish, we do everything that we can to show that we are united as Christians on this important issue.   

In the past couple of years, this Parish has given extraordinary support to the Respect Life Movement.  Our Baby Bottle campaigns, our Spiritual Adoption Campaigns, and our Post Card Campaign, have all demonstrated that you are a pro-life people.  Congratulations to all of you for your support.  And I am confident that the ongoing Baby Bottle and Spiritual Adoption campaigns will also be successful this year, and that you will support the KOC Spaghetti Dinners to be held on the last Friday of each Month outside of Lent for JMJ Center.     

So, that said, what is missing?  What more can we do to unify the Body of Christ on Respect Life Issues?  Besides prayer, I think there are three important things we can all do.  First, we need to be educated in pro-life matters.  This year, our Respect Life Conference will be held on Saturday February 26th.  We will focus on end-of life issues, not on abortion.  A doctor, a lawyer, and a priest will provide expertise that all of us should find valuable.  They will serve as a panel that will present and discuss Christian ethics on end of life matters; and they will give Catholic advice on the details of Living Wills, Do Not Resuscitate Orders, and other such documents.  All of us need to know about end of life issues and what our Church teaches.  Why? First, because we need to know what to do when we are confronted with them as part of public policy.  For example, some of these issues may become sensitive politically because of provisions in the New Health Care Bill.  So, we need to be informed on them as voters.  And you know, it doesn’t matter what your age is, God could call you at any time- a stroke, an aneurysm, a car accident- and you could be in a position where you should have had a Living Will.  And for those of us who are getting up in years, or have a parent getting up in years, these end-of-life issues are quite timely right now.  And so, I urge all of you to come to the conference to find out what our Church teaches.   

We are also going to be hearing about “Human Trafficking”- another Respect Life issue- in the next couple of weeks.  The Diocese is involved in a major push to educate us about recognizing when Human Trafficking is occurring.  Human trafficking occurs when people are effectively coerced into prostitution or farm work or domestic service or some other activity against their will.  It happens all around us, only we don’t always recognize it.  The Church is hoping that if you and I are properly educated on recognizing signs of Human trafficking, then we will notify the right people so that something can be done about it.  Education is a responsibility that all of us adults have in these matters.  A knowledgeable parish can demonstrate their convictions with action.     

That brings me to the second thing we can all do.  Our Parish and our Diocese need to show our Right to Life stance publicly, not just within our walls or with our wallets.  Taking a public stance makes it clear that we believe and support the Church’s position because we are being proactive, not passive.  I encourage you to get involved in some way in a Respect Life Project in order to do that.  For example, JMJ Center is looking for an executive Director; and some folks make weekly visits to picket Abortion Clinics.  But you can do it in small ways too, you know.  For example, every year we have a “Life Chain” out in front of the Church along the sidewalk.  Parishioners are asked to hold pro-life signs for just an hour on a Sunday Afternoon.  Typically, we have 100 people, many of whom are youth trying to get service points.  Just 100 people out of a parish of 6,000 families.  What a public statement it would be if we had 500 or 1000 of you lined up for a mile or so along Apopka Vineland.  Surely, some of you can do that.  And then there are the water cooler discussions and other opportunities we all have when we are in public- a chance to make a difference, speaking up instead of remaining silent.   

The third thing we can do is to vote our position.  Now I know that there are some people out there that will talk about separation of Church and State.  But like it or not, there is a strong link between Government and controlling immoral and illegal behavior.  We elect people to government positions at all levels so that we will be protected from those who do evil things.  That’s why we have police and civil law and standards of behavior.  Make no mistake about it- 55 million aborted people since 1972 is evil.  Yet some folks seem to have lost their grip on what wrong behavior is.  Even though the vast majority of doctors and scientists all acknowledge that human life begins at conception, a large part of our secular society, under the guise of tolerance, preaches that termination of a human life in the womb, is a matter of choice for the pregnant woman.  What about the Father; and what about the fact that terminating that life is murder? 

Tolerance and passive acceptance of this position is leading to an erosion of our other values.  And so, we find assisted suicide and gay marriage gaining acceptance as well.  The Florida Catholic Bishops statement on this Anniversary of Roe vs Wade that is published in today’s bulletin specifically raises concern over these other two issues.  And we will need to be concerned about Euthanasia next, because in today’s economic crunch secular society may not want to pay the cost of keeping older folks alive.   

The fact is that this largely Christian nation needs to be awakened, and stand up and be counted.  We need to unite as the Body of Christ.  We do that by making sure our elected officials reflect and practice Christian values, and the most important of these values is respect for life.  It is our responsibility as clergy to make that very clear to our parishoners. 

Let us all recognize this one essential fact about our Church.  Today, as in the day of Paul, our Church’s mission is to Baptize us as Christians and to preach the Gospel.  The Church does this, and I quote “Not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of it’s meaning”.  Rather, the Church teaches the Wisdom of God.  God is responsible for all life; it is his decision.  And so, as Christians, we are challenged to hold the Body of Christ together in unity.  And we do that by choosing those who choose life. 

Great Expectations!

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

 

Thursday of the 2nd Week of Ordinary Time

Heb 7: 25 – 8: 6; Mk 3: 7-12

Dc. Larry Brockman

 

Great Expectations!  Such great expectations from the people that crowded Jesus.  And why not?  For the stories of Jesus great healing powers had spread far and wide.  “If Jesus could do that for others, surely he can do it for me, too”.  That was the sentiment, an air of great expectations.   

Now the Church has paired this Gospel with an interesting scriptural description of the roles of priests and sacrifices.  Why so?  In the Old Testament, priests offered animal sacrifices to the Lord to atone for sins.  They offered the best- lambs and other animals specially selected because they were the most desirable.  As if sacrificing something near and dear would be an acceptable offering to God; and in some way atone for their sins so that favors would be granted by God.  They practiced this because God, acting through his prophets like Moses, prescribed what they were to do and how they were to do it.  And so, it was their expectation that God would keep his end of the bargain, accept their sacrifice, and grant them the favors they sought after the atonement sacrifice.  That was their expectation.   

Now Jesus sacrifice has been described in Old Testament terms as the slaughter of the unblemished Lamb of God- the sacrifice of the human life of God’s only son for the atonement of the sins of Mankind, our imperfections- so that we may all qualify for eternal life.  When our priests re-enact this sacrifice in the Mass, that’s what it is all about.  We re-enact the perfect sacrifice as a reminder, and in Thanksgiving for, the New Covenant- the promise of eternal life for those who accept and believe, so that we can stay directed on the path that the Lord laid out for us in the Gospels.   

When we attend Mass, what are our expectations?  Are they like the people that surrounded Jesus in our Gospel story, people who are expecting that something be done for them.  Or are our expectations more in line with the meaning of the Mass- that we remember what God, through Jesus His son, has done for us so that the reminder brings us into focus of what we need to do to attain the reward Jesus earned for us, eternal life? 

I think that it comes down to this: Trust.  We need to constantly be reminded of the promise of our own everlasting life that the Mass reminds us of, so that our trust in the Lord’s providence for us will override every trial, suffering, and doubt in our lives, trust that God will answer your prayer in his way, his time.  We can be, and do need to be, persistent in our prayer.  So, we should come to Mass often, and pray often.  But our attitude needs to be one of trust, not selfishness.  Unlike the people in the Gospel who crowded Jesus, pressing in on him for an immediate cure, we need to give him space, the space to fulfill God’s plan for us who trust in him.   

Combating Hardness of Heart

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Thursday of the 1st Week of ordinary Time

 

Heb 3: 7-14; Mk 1: 40-45

 

Dc. Larry Brockman

 

Those Old Testament Jews, they had such hardness of heart amongst them, didn’t they?  For 40 years the Lord worked miracle after miracle for them- deliverance from a much more powerful people; pillars of fire; God talking out of a cloud; manna for food coming out of the sky; water from rocks; and even staffs turning into snakes.  And yet, they didn’t get it.  Although they experienced all of these works of the Lord’s and more, they really didn’t hear the voice of the Lord and follow His precepts.  They never seemed to remember the lessons taught by the Lord the previous day or week.   Every day was like a new birth for them; it’s almost like they were saying to themselves:  “A miracle yesterday, yes;  but what miracle will you work for me today so that I will believe”?  You see, hearing means more than just awareness when it happens.  It means actually responding to what you hear.  And so, we hear the message not once, but twice in today’s scripture, that:  “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”.

Is our world, our generation, our parish, our congregation making the same mistake?  Do we harden our hearts when we hear the Lord’s voice?  In its wisdom the Church proclaims the teachings of the Church consistently and persistently- teachings on our responsibilities to grow in our faith, to serve others, and to love our neighbor; teachings on abortion and sexual morality and social justice.  And do we respond?  Or do we just hear with a little “h”, and then go on with our daily lives as if nothing happened, waiting to be fed with the next miracle before we are shaken out of a sense of complacency or preoccupation?

You know, I really have to admire the leper in the Gospel story.  Most lepers would have been complacent, downtrodden, and consumed with their own suffering.  But this leper was not- he listened to the message of Jesus, a message of change and conversion of the heart and of hope.  And Jesus responded by healing him.  This leper’s heart had not been hardened.

As individuals, we cannot single handedly change the world.  But like this leper, there is something we can do.  We can change our attitude.  We can soften our heart when we hear the Lord, and open ourselves up to respond to the message we hear.  In other words, we can:  “Encourage yourselves daily while it is still “today”, so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin”.

Are You Experiencing the Epiphany?

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Epiphany

Is 60: 1-6; Eph 3: 2-31, 5-6; Mt 2: 1-12

Dc. Larry Brockman

The year is 1976.  My wife Jane and I are expecting our 4th child.  We had 3 sons; I was one of two sons; and my Dad was one of 4 sons.  Almost 100 years had passed in my Dad’s family without a daughter being born!  We are waiting, and hoping that a little girl would be born.  Just 3 days before Christmas, Jane went into labor.  We had trained in the Le Boyer natural child birth method.  So I was there, right along side her as she labored.  Suddenly, the baby was born; my beautiful daughter Mary!  The doctor handed Mary to me, and I placed her in a warm water bath as she looked up at me with deep blue eyes!  What joy I experienced, but I experienced something else as well.  The whole process was an epiphany, the manifestation of a new life, yes.  But more than that- an answer to a prayer, and a sudden realization that things were different.  Soon after birth, I was ushered out of the room, and proudly proclaimed the good news to family and hospital staff alike, sharing my joy and euphoria over the birth of my daughter.   

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany.  In Europe and much of the world, it is the Epiphany which is the major Feast of the coming of the Lord, not Christmas day.  It is that day when the wise men, the kings, appeared at the scene of the nativity of the Lord.  They came from all over the world, a diverse representation of all the peoples come from afar to see the manifestation of the Lord, a fulfillment of a promise by God to send us a savior.  And not only that, Jesus was not just the Messiah for Israel, but the Messiah for all mankind. 

The manifestation of God was the birth of His son on Christmas.  But the Epiphany is the realization that Jesus is the Lord of all, the Savior of all, not just for Israel, but for the whole world.  It is the realization that the ancient promise, the ancient covenant, between God and the Jews, had been fulfilled for all of us.   

And just who was this Messiah that God sent?  His only son- true God and true man, fully human and fully divine.  Nothing like that had ever been promised by any of the religions of the world, that God himself would take on human nature and live and dwell amongst us as one of us, showing us the way to live a life pleasing to God through the example of His Gospel.  Proof of his humanity was birth as a helpless baby, coming into the world just as all of the rest of us do; to grow up and become an adult; to find out what life was all about.  That was a process that took 30 of his years.  His Mission of public ministry took just the last 3 years.   

Proof of His divinity is the inspiration of the Spirit, transmitted through the angels and dreams, to his parents, to his Aunt Elizabeth; and to the wise men.  The wise men, who travelled from all corners, had to be inspired.  They were not Jews or followers of the Jews.  Rather, they were Gentiles from diverse peoples and cultures.  All of whom heard the call, the prompting of the Spirit.  They were so convinced of the coming of the Messiah, that they brought precious gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and myrrh.  Some say the gifts were the best that the visitors had to offer from their own countries.  Others say the Gold signifies the coming Kingship of Christ; the frankincense signifies the recognition of the divinity, the smoke that reaches up to the almighty; and the myrrh represents a foretelling of the death of Jesus because myrrh was used in embalming.  The point is that these men were committed to their mission to find the Messiah.   

In the second reading, Paul refers to the Epiphany as the unveiling of a mystery.  And indeed, it was a mystery.  The Messiah was promised, yes, but the kind of Messiah that was sent, a spiritual messiah, not a worldly king with power and might, this had been a mystery that was not unveiled until Jesus grew up and fulfilled His mission.  And this culminated by Jesus command to his apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations, not just the Jews.   

And so, all of us today commemorate this manifestation, this Epiphany, this unveiling of the mystery on its anniversary.  It is a day of joy for all who allow themselves to be transformed by the Epiphany.   

Now the Wise men did not stay and bask in the glory of the Messiah they had found.  Rather, they returned to their homelands to spread the good news of the coming of the Messiah.  As I look out at all of you today it strikes me that all of you are called to do the same,.to spread the good news and the joy of Christmas to our world as a whole.  As Isaiah says: “Then you shall be radiant at what you see; your heart shall throb and overflow.”  And so, I ask all of you here today.  Are you ready to spread the glory of the Coming of the Lord?  Do I here an Amen?  Merry Christmas!