You can now listen to my homily from last Sunday on Sound Cloud:
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mk 10:43).
You can now listen to my homily from last Sunday on Sound Cloud:
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mk 10:43).
Instead of preaching on Marriage this Sunday, I spoke about something else, something tearing away at my heart in my current ministry, something of a rather urgent character in our world and in our Parish community. (For a Homily on Marriage, see below.)
It’s almost 30 minutes, but I encourage you to listen, because it speaks to one of the reasons why renewal in our Parish –– indeed in the whole Church –– is so deeply needed today.
This is a repeat of my homily from 2015, but I felt it was worth republishing.
Gn 2:7, 15, 28-24
Ps 128 R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Once again, in today’s Gospel, we find the Pharisees placing their trust in their education and intelligence, and trying to trick Jesus. You see, the question they put to Jesus — Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? — was a trick, a double edged sword.
If Jesus said no, then He’d be disagreeing with what Moses taught, and that would make Him a blasphemer. If He said yes, then He’d have to choose His interpretation. That’s because the Pharisees themselves were divided on the matter. Some taught that a man could divorce his wife only for reasons of adultery; others that he could divorce his wife if she angered him (say, if she burned supper or broken something); and still others that he could divorce her simply because he didn’t want her any more. If Jesus answered yes, He’d have to choose one camp and have the other two as enemies. The Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a corner.
But, like in all other attempts to trick Him, Jesus outsmarts them. Instead of answering their question about divorce, Jesus speaks to them about Marriage: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:6-9).
Instead of debating whether divorce was lawful or not, Jesus teaches about the meaning and reality of Marriage, and though His answer was short, He makes some very important points.
In making reference to the text of Genesis we heard in the first reading today, Jesus roots His answer in the will of God. God created man and woman, and He created them not for divorce but for partnership and union: This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gn 2:23, 24).
By creating Eve from the rib of Adam, God created her as an equal: a partner not merely because she is of the same nature and being as Adam, but because she is his equal in matter and dignity. She comes from the same piece of clay, and the rib, being close to the heart, places them side by side, and not one above the other. Therefore, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the dignity God gave women, and that women aren’t property that can be dismissed when no longer wanted.
In creating man and woman as equals and for partnership, their union as husband and wife isn’t a mere human experience: it’s God’s plan. Therefore, He is the one who binds them to one another in the union of Marriage.
The Church has always understood that in the exchange of vows to each other, a bride and groom give themselves to each other as gifts. They offer each other as a mutual exchange of persons: ‘I give myself to you as husband, and I receive you as wife’, and vice versa. And it’s this mutual gift of self to the other that makes Marriage a sacred covenant, because it’s done in totality: total self for life. The Council Fathers of Vatican II put it in this way:
The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will … is a lasting one. ~
Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them (Cf. Pius XI, Casti Connubii) (GS, 48 – emphasis added).
By making appeal to God’s plan in creation, this is what Jesus brings into the discussion. Just like Jesus can’t separate His humanity from His divinity, nor can I separate myself into two people, neither can husband and wife break the union they have established through their mutual gift of self. That’s why Jesus concludes, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:8). And why He insists that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk 10:11-12).
Now over the years (and even in our own day!) many have misunderstood this truth about Marriage. Some have used it to keep people in abuse. The Church has never taught that someone has stay in an abusive relationship. In our Gospel passage, Jesus didn’t condemn separation; He condemned remarriage after divorce. Sometimes it may be necessary for someone in an abusive Marriage to live apart from their spouse. This is a sad and painful reality of our sinfulness. But such a separation doesn’t break the marital bond between the two; separated spouses are to continue to understand themselves as married, and to not attempt remarriage. And nor does legal divorce break the bond between husband and wife.
In some cases, though, the consent upon which the mutual exchange was built can be defective; that is, one or both people didn’t truly give themselves to each other. In such cases, the union can be declared null. That’s what we call a ‘declaration of nullity’ (wrongfully called an ‘annulment’); it’s not the Catholic version of divorce, but a declaration that, after careful study of the relationship, the bond of Marriage was never established; it was invalid. If a Marriage is declared ‘null’, then both parties are free to remarry.
This is the reality of Marriage: through the exchange of vows, a man and a woman are joined to each other so as to become one, and this union is for life. This was God’s plan in creating us male and female, that the two should come together for a communion of life and love. And this is a sacred union, one that reflects the Trinity and our union with Jesus (Eph 5:32); and one that’s revealed most beautifully in the Incarnation of Christ and in His Death on the Cross.
Let us pray today, then, for all married couples, especially those experiencing difficulties; for those preparing for Marriage; and for all the Bishops participating in the Synod on the Family, which opens today. Amen.
Ps 34 R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
It’s been a difficult month in the Church in North America, especially this past week, as we’ve been hearing about clergy sex abuse and how deep the historical cover-up has been. I don’t know any Priest who’s not shaken up or even angered by all of this, as I’m sure you are. These reports have shown us a Church culture that hasn’t been concerned with the pastoral care of people or of helping victims to heal and recover, but rather with self-protection and hiding the sins of shepherds.
And I can’t say that it completely surprises me. This is a fruit of a maintenance culture, a culture that has abandoned mission and seeks only to maintain privilege and status. It pains me to say that in our day this is the prevalent culture in the Church –– and not just in the U.S..
But this isn’t anything new. Throughout history, we see that every time the Church gets comfortable, every time her members feel as though they’re ‘okay’, things go awry. Luxury and comfort kick in; power, prestige and politics become the objectives; and abuse and debauchery of all different sorts rear their ugly heads. And this isn’t just with the clergy. Look at the world around us! If clergy do it, it’s because it’s found in society; and if the clergy do it, the laity is also sure to follow. It’s truly a vicious circle. That’s why the Church always needs to be vigilant about herself and seek to always reform, renew and refocus herself on Christ. And again, this isn’t just for the clergy, it’s for all of the baptised.
A difference we see today is how sick it’s gotten, and how deeply hurtful it’s become for victims and for all members of the Church. I don’t think anyone is left untouched by this in some way or other. And, as odd as it sounds, that’s a good thing! Because it’s only by being disturbed that change will come about. By noticing how far we’ve fallen, we can then turn back to Jesus, seek His mercy and His grace, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring about healing and transformation in our hearts, in our lives and in the Church. And I think it’s precisely because He desires this transformation that God has made all these horrible things to come to light. Healing can only begin when we know what the problem is, and the disease must be eradicated if the patient is to recover.
When we look at the reports, we see that a great part of the problem has been complacency: clergy and laity alike have stopped seeking holiness, have stopped growing in faith, have stopped trying to be like Jesus. And yet, as we hear in the Gospel today this is exactly why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. He’s given us His Body and Blood –– and continues to do so –– so that we might have life. And not just any life, but His life, so that we might become like Him: He living in us and we in Him.
I hope and pray that history will one day show that this great scandal today will be the catalyst for a renewal in the Church, not a death of faith but a renewal; a refocussing on Jesus and a renewed desire for holiness. Because that’s why Jesus created the Church. That’s why He gave us Priests: to lead us to Him and to bring us His transforming grace. This is what St. Paul reminds us in the second reading: be careful how you live, … making the most of the time… do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is(Eph 5:15, 16-17).
This is a wake-up call to all disciples of Jesus that we need to turn back to Him, that we need to allow Him to change our hearts and our lives and become imitators of Him. And not just a little bit, but increasingly, so that His holiness may be revealed in us.
This is also a reminder to the whole Church of the importance of letting go of “the way things have always been” so as to rediscover our mission. We’re not meant for maintenance but for mission! We’re called as a Church –– clergy and laity alike –– to focus our work on making disciples; on bringing people to Jesus so that they can find in Him healing, forgiveness and life; on working for the salvation of souls –– not simply for our own, and certainly not for power and prestige.
This is why it’s so important for us to spend time in prayer every day. While we may not become predators if we don’t, we certainly will become too comfortable and too complacent to do anything to change the mess we’re in. Rather than be discouraged or withdrawing amid this scandal, we need to recommit ourselves to Jesus, to the Church, to our Parish, so that the life Christ wants to give will take hold of us, and by renewing us, renew the whole Church. It really does depend on each of us turning more intently to Jesus.
I ask also that you pray in a particular way for victims of clergy abuse. Not only are they still hurting from the grievous wounds of abuse, the retelling of stories and events in these days is also reopening their wounds and renewing their hurt. And know that these victims are not in distant Parishes; they’re among us, even in our own Parish, and they need our love, our help and our prayers. This must never happen again.
May God have mercy on us, and through the gift of His grace, bring about in each of our lives and in the whole Church, lasting transformation that will lead to the holiness of her members and to the rewards of eternal life. Amen.
Today is supposed to be a great and joyful feast in honour of the glory of Mary and the triumph of God’s mercy in her life, in her very being. Mary is assumed into heaven body and soul because of her sinlessness, because of her immaculate conception.
And yet, today the Church finds herself in mourning, covered with shame, confusion and hurt. And not because of anything that has happened to her from the outside, but because of the failings of her very own shepherds. It pains me to speak about this today on this joyful feast – it makes me cry even just to think about it –, but speak I must, because silence is what created this mess in the first place. I’m speaking here, of course, of the newest wave of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct that is being revealed in these days. And it’s not just an isolated case or even many, but the systematic nature of these abuses and the depth to which they were rampant. And I fear that we’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg in this matter. What a contrast to the very nature of our feast today.
You see, Mary’s glory is that she, in her person, reveals the very destiny for which every person has been created. We’ve been created not for sin and depravity, but for holiness and righteousness; we’ve been created to reflect the very holiness and perfection of God, and the reward for that holiness is the beatific vision, union with God in heaven for eternity. Mary’s assumption into heaven is what God created each one of us to experience. Now, as children of Adam, we lost that gift through original and personal sin.
But as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus has restored this gift (albeit in a modified form) by bringing us the gift of mercy, forgiveness and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: since death came through a man; for all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22). But Christ’s gift of grace isn’t magic; we aren’t restored unless we repent, and we aren’t made holy unless we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, to change our hearts and our lives. We must do the works of the Father in order to inherit the Kingdom of God; we must be holy for God is holy.
We must allow the Holy Spirit to put to death the sin that lies in our hearts, or else it will reign there, and we will be lost. This is exactly what we’re seeing again in these days, what happens when people allow sin to reign in their hearts. This is all the more painful and devastating when Priests – men who have been consecrated to God, for His service, for His people – allow sin to take hold of their hearts.
In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, we hear that the great Dragon swept a third of the stars down and waited to devour the son of the Woman (Rev 12:4). If we continued reading the vision, St. John tells us that after being defeated, the Dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). We’ve seen and experienced these attacks since the beginning of the Church, but almost always from the outside. As Jesus said, ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).
But now we’re seeing very clearly that the Dragon has entered the Church and is pursuing God’s children from within. And it’s important for us to realise that these crimes are attacks on the Church and attempts to destroy her from within. In many cases cited in recent reports, strange demonic rituals often accompanied the abuse perpetrated. And notice how it’s always an attack on the innocent. The evil one relishes the destruction of innocence, because innocence is a glimpse into God’s holiness. This is heartbreaking on so many levels.
But our second reading from St. Paul also continues with some good news: Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet(1 Cor 15:24-25). While it’s painful for us to hear the stories of these abuses, and it rightly angers and sickens us, it is in fact good news, because it means that God is purifying His Church: He is showing the strength of His arm; He is pulling out the weeds and scattering the proud of heart; He is casting out the demons that lay hidden within her, and bringing down the powerful from their thrones. And this, too, is only the tip of the iceberg!
As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish (5:25-27).
Jesus is now purifying His Church so as to make her holy, and not just by getting rid of the evil that’s hidden in her, but by using these events also to remind us of why it’s so important for us to seek holiness. This cleansing of the Temple is a call to holiness! We’ve created this mess – and let’s be honest, it’s not just the Priests’ and Bishops’ fault –, we’ve created this mess because we’ve abandoned God’s call to be holy as He is holy; we’ve abandoned His call to hear the word of God and do it; we’ve forsaken a life of prayer for a life of comfort. In other words, we’ve allowed the world to lead us, and not the Holy Spirit. And this is as true for each of us as it is for those who committed these horrendous crimes.
As we walk through this time of desolation – and it isn’t over yet –, may we hear the voice of God calling us to a deeper conversion, to a return to prayer and fasting, to renew our efforts to be holy, by allowing His grace and the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and our lives. God is indeed mindful of His promise to our fathers and is using this difficult time to bring us His mercy. May we hear His voice and follow after Him, for the victory is already His and is being fulfilled before us right now. The only question that remains is, where will we be found? Among the fruit, or among the weeds?
As we celebrate this solemn feast today, let us take refuge in Mary and seek her intercession for the Church, for victims of abuse, for ourselves.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
It’s been a while –– I’ve stopped writing our my homilies and recording them has been a bit challenging, so there hasn’t been much to post. I’ll work on it. In the meantime, I’ve added some other audio files.
Last week I gave a Parish Lenten Mission for Holy Family Parish in St. Albert, Alberta based around the book Divine Renovation and the current need for Parish transformation –– moving toward a missionary dynamic in the Parish. The Mission took place on March 5 & 6 (2018). Below are the two talks.
Talk 1 (45 mins.)
Talk 2 (73 mins.)
I welcome your feedback. Enjoy!