Friday, December 24, 2010

Awake! For your sake God has become man!

Homily, Christmas Eve, 2010
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

A friend of mine (Jody Bottum, former editor of First Things) tells this Christmas story of his youth: Late Afternoon on Christmas Eve, the year I was eleven, my father took me with him across the river [to visit] Mr. Harmon, a rancher who lived over on the other side of the river... If you've never seen that South Dakota country in winter, you have no idea how desolate land can be... But you can't pay a visit in South Dakota, especially at Christmas, without facing food--endless besieging armies of it... From the moment she spotted us turning off the highway, Mrs. Harmon must have been piling the table... But then Mrs. Harmon began to yell, "Jim, Jim, the horses are out." And in a tangle of arms and jackets, we poured out to herd back the frightened animals... four expensive quarter-horses [got] loose on the prairie. Mr. Harmon climbed into his pickup and headed north along the highway, while my father drove off to the south. Mrs. Harmon took it more calmly. She went inside to telephone the neighbors, and the boys began to saddle three horses to ride out and look.

You have to understand the significance of that third horse, for it marks the difference between the town and the country--even a little town surrounded by country. The Harmons just assumed that an eleven-year-old boy is old enough to help, while my mother would have pitched a fit at my riding out on the prairie alone, a few hours from sundown, in the middle of winter.

[So he sets out to find the horse...] There was little chance of getting lost. I knew, more or less, how to ride, and the highway was in sight much of time. Still, as the land grew colder and darker, the excitement faded, leaving only brittle determination, a boy's will not to be the first to turn back.

I can't have ridden far through the Christmas hills--maybe three or four miles--when I came over a rise and spotted one of the horses skittering in front of a worn farmhouse. Standing in the yard was a woman, a rope in one hand and her other hand held up empty toward the horse. She was hatless and tiny, hardly bigger than I was, with a man's heavy riding coat hanging down below her knees, and she seemed very old to me. Yellow light streamed out on the cold ground from the one lit window of the house.

As I rode down, she waved me back, talking to the horse in the gentlest, lightest patter, as though nothing much had ever been wrong, really, and, anyway, everything was all right, now. He bobbed back and forth, nearer and nearer, until he touched her open hand with his steaming nose and she eased the loop over his neck.

"Bea Harmon called," she said, handing me the rope, "and told me you were all out looking for this boy. They often come to me, you know. He'll go along quietly now."

Her eyes were quick and black. "I don't see many people, here about," she chirruped, like a winter bird. "Come in and get warm. I'll make some coffee. No, you're a little young for coffee. I'll put some water on for tea, and there're the cookies I made in case someone came by." But I was proud of bringing back one of the strays and wouldn't wait. I shied away from her outstretched hand and galloped back.

Sometimes you catch sight of a turn leading off into the distance, a dirt track or a county road at right angles to the highway as you drive along in the straight, miles-long line you see only in the West. And you know you'll never go up it, never come back to find where it leads, and always there remains a sense, as you roll past, that maybe this time you should have turned and followed that track up into the distant hills.

Her hair was the same thin shade of gray as the weather-beaten pickets of the fence around her frozen garden. She had a way with horses, and she was alone on Christmas Eve. There is little in my life I regret as much as that I would not stay for just one cookie, just one cup of tea.

On this Christmas Eve, do not let the opportunity presented to you pass you by. Christ has come in Bethlehem. The Child is born. Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. Our Savior is at hand. Awake and greet him.

St. Augustine would tell us (OOR, Dec. 24), “Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man. You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would have never returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

If you recognize his first coming as a child in the simplicity of Bethlehem, if you listen to his teachings and act on them, then perhaps your heart will be open to see him in the many ways in which he continues to reveal himself to us today.

(HPR, Dec. ’98) I remember once reading a reminiscence written by a prominent theologian who taught at a major university. She was traveling across country to give a lecture, and it was an exhausting trip, as she had to change trains a couple times and found it difficult to eat while traveling. As she walked through one terminal, her fatigue and hunger overcame her, and she fainted at the foot of a staircase. Nearby, there was a small group of homeless men. One of them left the group and came over and helped her. He helped her up and gently sat her down on the stair. He then went off for a moment, returned with a cup of water, and stood their anxiously as she drank it up. Then he went off again, got a porter from the train she was headed to, and then helped pile her bags on the carrier. As she was leaving with the porter, she weakly tried to thank him, but he waved off her thanks with the simple words, “Oh, you’d have done the same for me!”

And she wept, for she knew it wasn’t true. Though she was a very learned theologian, she encountered Christ in a way she was not expecting in a person where she had not expected to find him.

If our hearts our open to the Child of Bethlehem, we will find Christ easily, when:
- we reconcile with with an estranged family member, even if just a card or note.
- we forgive someone who has harmed us.
- we take time to listen to the lonely or distressed.
- we comfort those who have lost a loved one.
- we help someone in need, especially during these difficult economic times.
- we gather our families together to pray, inviting him into our household.
- we make peace with our enemies.
- we bring a smile to someone's face.
- we share in the suffering of the ill, the elderly, the dying by visiting them, spending time with them.
- we encourage those whose faith is weak.

St. Teresa of Avila,would say:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, but yours,
No feet, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.

Find Christ now. Greet him. Welcome him into your heart and your home. Hold him in your arms as did the Blessed Mother, kiss him with good deeds, embrace him with love, and tell him you love him continuously in prayer and in the people you meet.

The Christmas Proclamation

* The twenty-fifth day of December.
* In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
* the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
* the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
* the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;

* the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
* in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;
* in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
* the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
* the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
* the whole world being at peace,
* in the sixth age of the world,
* Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,
* was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh.
* The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saint Joseph and the Modern Man

Homily, 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

I have learned in my life, and perhaps you have as well, that God seldom does what we expect him to do or would like him to do.

And certainly that is the case with the Incarnation, which we will commemorate on Christmas day. Those who were waiting and praying for the Messiah certainly didn’t expect him to come as a child, born of a Virgin in a stable in Bethlehem. Perhaps they expected this descendent of Kings to be born of a King, into a royal and noble family, with all the power, wealth and honor that entailed.

But God didn’t do what everyone was expecting him to do. Instead, he chose an obscure descendent of King David, a humble carpenter from Nazareth, to be the head of the family from which his Son would come. So, as we bring the season of Advent, this season of preparation, to a close, let’s look at St. Joseph.

The first thing to note about St. Joseph is his dilemma. God not only does the unexpected, but he puts Joseph in a tough situation. His wife was pregnant, and he did not yet know that she had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit after the annunciation by Gabriel. Yet certainly he could not believe that she could have done something wrong. So how does he handle his dilemma? Since he is an “upright man, unwilling to expose her to the law”, he chooses to divorce her quietly because that will cause her the least harm. He was not interested in what would benefit him the most, but instead, he thought only of what was best for her. In fact, the shame would have fallen on him, because he would have been seen as a deadbeat who abandoned his fiancé. He was not only a just man, but he was a charitable man, willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others, and to give of himself.

Perhaps God was testing him, to see if he was worthy to be the foster father of Jesus, to see if he would have the qualities necessary to be a father to the Savior. But finally, the Lord sends an angel to tell him the rest of the story, to tell him what he must do. And that is the next thing to note about St. Joseph: when he awoke, the scriptures say, “he did as the angel of the Lord had directed him.” He did not question the Lord’s will; he did not second-guess what he had been told; he simply submitted himself to God’s will and went about his duty as he was told.

Again, God had acted in an unexpected way, and for St. Joseph, that meant that his life from that moment onwards was radically changed. Through the tradition of the Church, in the writings of the saints, and in a lot of Christian art, St. Joseph is pictured as an old man. Since he was the guardian and protector of Mary’s virginity, many in the church, in their excess of piety, thought that he must certainly be an old man. But, this attitude, this image, as Fulton Sheen once said, “betrays a lack of confidence in the ability of young people to live chaste lives, as if the condition for living holy purity is that one be old.” So isn’t it much more beautiful to picture St. Joseph as a young man who immediately said “yes” to God when he called. St. Joseph was a chaste man. Not all husbands are called to live perfect continence within marriage as he did, but all husbands are called to live and act chastely, not treating their wives or other women as objects, but instead treating them with respect and dignity.

And I do not find it too hard to believe that he would so joyfully accept God’s will for his life for he was already a just man who knew the joys of keeping the commandments and loving God and our neighbor as himself. After all, he was being called to participate in the greatest wonder in human history - the birth of the God-man, Immanuel, God is with us; he was being called to be the guardian and protector of this divine child, and he had the privilege to be the husband of the most marvelous woman who has ever existed, Mary.

And to top it all off, St. Joseph, at the command of the angel, had the privilege of giving that child the name of Jesus, “he who saves his people from their sins”, the name above every other name, the name at which every knee should bend, in the heavens and on the earth, the name that every tongue must confess as Lord.
There is a beautiful prayer in the tradition of the Church, which is especially appropriate for Advent and Christmas, “O blessed Joseph, happy man who privilege it was, not only to see and hear that God whom many a king has longed to see, yet saw not, longed to hear, yet heard not; but also to carry him in your arms and kiss him, to clothe him and watch over him! Pray for us, Blessed Joseph.”

Because he has been so highly honored, and because he was a man of such virtue, it is no wonder that, next to the Blessed Mother, he is considered the greatest of the Saints. Pope Paul VI once said, “St. Joseph is the model of those humble ones that Christianity raises up to great destinies; ... he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ, there is no need of great things--it is enough to have the common, simple and human virtues, but they need to be true and authentic.”

So, as this Advent draws to a close, let us look to St. Joseph as a model of, as a just, honest, humble, obedient, hard working, chaste and pure man, who was always ready to do the Lord’s will. Because if we can model ourselves on him, then perhaps we will be responsive when the Lord does the unexpected in our lives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiness: Doing God's Will with a Smile

Homily, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

Years ago, I had a brush with greatness: my Christmas present to myself that year was a short trip to New York City with a couple close friends to see a new production of the great opera, Lucia di Lammermoor, at the Metropolitan Opera. Well, on my way to pick up my friends at their hotel, I literally almost bumped into Luciano Pavarotti as he was getting out of a limousine. I did the classic double-take, but since I’m not a groupie, I didn’t stop to get his autograph or anything.

Years earlier, I had an even better brush with greatness, this time with Mother Teresa. When I was still in the seminary, we used to make monthly visits to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. We would act as tour guides for visitors or act as altar servers during the many masses they had on Sundays. Well one year, Mother Teresa was there to see 26 of her sisters make their final vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and service to the poorest of the poor. So I got to serve at that Mass. When it came time for the presentation of the gifts, I was to lead the procession of about a dozen sisters who would bring the gifts forward. Well, at the last minute, they decided that Mother Teresa was going to join the procession and bring up some gifts. So I had to wait a couple of minutes for her to get ready, and I kept looking back to see when to go, she was kind of slow and I was getting kind of anxious, and finally, Mother Teresa looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Go!” And I tell you, I was ready to go to Calcutta or wherever she sent me, so thrilled was I to be in her presence.

What I thought was interesting, however, was to see the crowds of people flock around her after the Mass. Apparently, some people had been following her all over town, and a fellow seminarian commented that they seemed like “Mother Teresa groupies.”

Well, why is it that a simple nun attracted such attention? Why did people want to be in her presence and get a blessing or a kind word? Why? For one simple reason: her holiness. Holiness is attractive, it makes a person beautiful, and it has an effect on anyone who comes in contact with it.

And the same was true of John the Baptist in the Gospel today. Jesus said, (Matthew 11:7-11), “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet… Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” People came to John the Baptist because of his holiness, and they wanted a share of his holiness.

What is holiness? Holiness means to be “set apart” – to be set apart from worldly things for spiritual things. In other words, to be set apart for God. Holiness should remind us that we are destined to eternal life, the kingdom of heaven, and should not set our hearts on the passing things of this world.

But is holiness reserved for only a few, like John the Baptist, Mother Teresa, or the Pope? One of the spiritual writers says, (Fr. Bruno James in SCC #458), “It is a mistake to believe that the spiritual life is only for a chosen few; that sanctity is in much the same category as genius and only within the scope of a tiny minority.” Pope Pius XI (SCC) put it this way, “Our Lord himself tells us: ‘Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ Let no one think that this invitation is addressed to a small and exclusive number, and that it is permissible for the rest to remain in a lower degree of virtue. It is clear that this law obliges everybody and without exception.” And finally, the new catechism says this, CCC 2013: “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How then do we, in our daily lives, become holy? Well, if holiness means being set apart for God, then we do so by setting ourselves apart for God. And this is done in one primary way: conforming our wills to the will of God. In the Our Father, we say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” By uniting our wills on earth with the will of God in heaven, we help to make his kingdom present in the world.

So, St. Teresa of Avila would say (SCC), “The highest perfection consists not in interior favors or in great raptures or in visions or in the spirit of prophecy, but in bringing our wills so closely into conformity with the will of God that, as soon as we realize he wills anything, we desire it ourselves with all our might… bitter with the sweet, knowing that to be his Majesty’s will.”

Some might think this a difficult task, and indeed, the modern world wants to make it a difficult task by saturating every form of media with temptations to worldly things and mocking those who would pursue a life of virtue. But, to be honest, nothing could be easier. I’ll quote at length one of my favorite spiritual writers, deCaussade (in SCC#465), “If the business of becoming holy seems to present insufferable difficulties, it is merely because we have a wrong idea about it. In reality, holiness consists of one thing only: complete loyalty to God’s will. Now everyone can practice this loyalty, whether actively or passively. To be actively loyal means obeying the laws of God and the Church and fulfilling all the duties imposed on us by our way of life. Passive loyalty means that we lovingly accept all that God sends us at each moment of the day. Now is there anything here too difficult for us? Certainly nothing in active loyalty, for if the duties are beyond our powers, we are not expected to attempt to fulfill them. If we are too ill to go to Mass, we need not. And it is the same for all other precepts which lay down duties. But, of course, there can be no exemption from precepts which forbid wrongdoing, for we are never allowed to sin. Can anything be more sensible, or easier? We are left with no excuse. Yet God asks nothing more than this. But he does require it from everyone without exception.”

So, it’s real simple: live out your vocation faithfully, and do not sin. And how do we get the strength to do those two things? By prayer. Through prayer we draw closer to the Lord as an intimate friend, and the closer we draw to him, the more we will know his will for our lives, and the more strength he will give us to grown in virtue and overcome sin.

But personal holiness is not only good for us, it is good for those around us. It is a powerful way of evangelizing. Holiness is like a sweet-smelling perfume that fills a room. Could you ever imagine anyone using foul language around Mother Teresa? Or telling an off-color joke? Or gossiping about someone who wasn’t present? In the same way, whether in the work place or in school, if you refuse to engage in gossip, use foul language, or participate in off color stories or jokes, then you will have a positive effect on those around you. Likewise, in your homes, your family can grow in virtue if you set your home apart for God, by not allowing any pornography or violence in the home through television, by not getting caught up in consumerism or materialism and the constant pursuit of new and better things and gadgets, by making you home a place for the family to grow in their vocation as Christians.

And during this Advent season, we ought to especially be preparing ourselves by lives of holiness so that we can commemorate the birth of our Savior and welcome the child Jesus into our hearts.

Mother Teresa had a simple definition: "True holiness consists in doing God's will with a smile."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Justification: Forgiveness and a New Heart

Homily, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

One of the things I love most about the holiday season is the music. I like to listen to public radio, and around this time of year, they start playing all the classics. One of my favorites, which always receives its share of air time, is Handel’s “Messiah”, of which I’m sure you’re all familiar with the famous “Hallelujah” chorus. But I have two other favorites that come from Handel’s Messiah, one is near the beginning, “Comfort ye my people”, and the other is “And he shall purify the sons of Levi.” Those songs are very much about the priesthood, and when listening to them, I can make them a prayer.

In today's Gospel, Matthew tells us, "John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”" And he tells us that, people from "Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins."

Why did so many people flock to see John the Baptist? As Isaiah said, and as it is sung in Handel’s Messiah, “comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, cry out unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” John was so attractive because his words were words of mercy, words of comfort. If you repent and be baptized, your sins will be forgiven. For these people knew one simple fact: they were sinners in need of forgiveness. And the words of John the Baptist filled them will great joy and hope: the Lord was coming, the promised Messiah who would obtain forgiveness for their sins.

But, you know, it was more than that. It was more than just hearing the comforting words that their sins were going to be forgiven. There was something hidden in John’s words which also attracted them. He would say, “I have baptized you in water; He [who is to come] will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.” Forgiveness was part of the promise, but that was not the whole promise, for the Scriptures are full of other promises through the prophets, Ezekiel said (11:19), “I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the stony heart from their bodies, and replace it with a natural heart…” and Malachi said (3:3), as it is sung in Handel’s Messiah, “And he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto to the Lord an offering in righteousness.”

Now, to explain this, I’ll need to go into history a little bit. I’m sure you all know at least a little bit about the Protestant Reformation. Well, one of the key disputes between Catholics and Protestants at that time was this: what happens to a person when God forgives them, or what we call the question of justification. When Martin Luther was trying to explain this from the Protestant perspective, he taught that when the Lord justifies a sinner, the soul becomes like “dung covered with snow.” In other words, the person remains in their sin, still full of filth and corruption, like dung, but the Lord covers them with snow, so that when he looks down, all he sees is the white snow and not the dung, which is still there. You’re still a sinner, but the Lord overlooks that because Christ's righteousness is imputed to us. And certainly this flows from one of the promises of Isaiah (1:18), “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.” And the Psalm says (103:12), “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins.”

But it doesn’t end there, for the truth that the Catholic Church upheld against Martin Luther and his followers was that something else also happens when your sins are forgiven: you are purified, renewed, given a new heart. The dung, our filth and corruption, is not just covered up, but our souls are recreated, and a seed of glory is planted, a seed that if allowed to germinate will bear fruit for eternal life. In other words, when the Lord forgives your sins, he does so with "the Holy Spirit and fire." He not only forgets and overlooks your sins, he also creates in you a new heart, as St. Paul says, “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

And this happens first in Baptism, for Jesus says that we must be born from above by water and the Spirit (John 3:5). So Baptism accomplishes in us this new birth, this justification, where our sins are forgiven and we are recreated. When I baptize a child, part of the ritual says, “You have become a new creation… You have put on Christ. In Him you have been baptized.” And this new life in Christ should always be increasing, as St. Paul says in today’s reading, “It is my wish that you may be found rich in the harvest of justice which Jesus Christ has ripened in you.”

But, as we are all too aware, after Baptism, we still have our free will, and the temptations to sin from the world, the flesh and the devil often seem too strong. In short, despite the great gift of rebirth we have been given, we often turn from it. But we should not lose hope, because our Lord has given us another great sacrament, Confession, which the Fathers of the Church have called the “Baptism of tears.” And in this Sacrament, the same thing happens: we are forgiven, and renewed.

So, in this season of Advent, we can be like the people who responded to John the Baptist’s preaching, confessing our sins and reforming our lives through penance, then we will be truly ready when He comes again – and by the witness of our lives, we can be voices crying out in the wilderness of this modern world, announcing that “the reign of God is at hand.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Preparing to Receive the Lord Worthily

Homily, 1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

Just before Christmas of 1980, Pope John Paul II said Mass for over 2000 children in a parish in Rome. And he began his homily in this way, “How are you preparing for Christmas?” “By praying,” the children shouted back. “Very good, by praying, but also by going to confession. You must go to confession so that you can go to communion. Will you do that?” And of course, all the children replied “We will!” And then the Pope said, “Yes, you ought to go,” and then he lowered his voice, “The Pope will also go to confession so as to receive the Child Jesus worthily.” (ICG, v1, 1.2)

On this first Sunday of Advent, we are beginning again the liturgical cycle where the story of our salvation is told. During Advent, we anticipate the coming of the Lord, in Christmastime we celebrate his birth, during Ordinary time we study his teachings, in Lent we meditate on his Passion and Death, and during Easter we rejoice in his Resurrection.

And so through this continual liturgical cycle, year after year, the Church reminds us that we live on a time line. We live in the present, we can look back to the past, and we can look to and speculate about the future as we march towards it. Our faith tells us a few things about this time line. There is a beginning, Creation. And there is an end, the end of time. And there are two points on that line which have changed everything for human history, and we live between them: one marks the place where Something Has Happened, and the other marks the place where Something Will Happen. The first happening was the Birth of Christ, the Word made Flesh, God became Man. The second happening is the day when he will come again in glory. (Walker Percy on Canticle in “Signposts”)

You see, in Christianity God comes to us. We speak of Emmanuel, “God is with us”, and sing “God has visited his people.” Other religions may tell you that God is out there, beyond reach, or that he is impersonal or uncaring. And others may try to tell you ways in which you can reach God all on your own. But Christianity is unique in that we believe that God has come to us, on his own initiative because of his great love for us, to end that separation from him caused by our sin. And moreover, he will come again, and we will never be separated from him again.

His first coming was hidden, in a stable in a small town outside Jerusalem. His future coming will be for all to see as he comes with the Heavenly Jerusalem. At his first coming, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger, at his second, he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In his first coming, he endured his Passion, despite its shame, enduring the mockery and humiliation by the soldiers; in the second, he will come in glory, escorted by an army of angels. (OOR, 1st Sun. Adv)

When he came the first time, he sought to teach us his way of love by gentle persuasion, so that we would freely choose him; but when he comes again, the time for learning and choosing and growing will be complete.

But while we are living in this in-between time, this time between his first and second comings, we have the opportunity to learn more about him, to choose him, and to grow in his love. And in this in-between time, he continues to come to us, in a veiled and hidden way requiring faith not sight, in the sacraments, most especially in the Eucharist.

St. Paul says to us today, “You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.” And he’s simply telling us a simple fact: each hour that passes, we are one hour closer to our eternal destiny. And Jesus gives us the example of the people in Noah’s time, who were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, right up until the time that the Deluge swept upon them. It’s not that those things were bad, we must continue to live our vocation in the midst of the world, but we must live our lives prepared to give an account of ourselves. We cannot live in “carousing and drunkenness, sexual excess and lust, quarreling and jealousy” as if we were not facing the day of judgment.

And that’s the difference between the people in the Gospel: “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal; one will be taken and one will be left.” In each case, both were doing the same thing, but only one was found worthy. Why? Because they were prepared. They lived the goodness of marriage, but not in “sexual excess and lust”; they ate and drank, but not in “carousing and drunkenness”; and they worked in the fields and at the mills, but not in “quarreling and jealousy.” In other words, they lived their lives for the Lord and in anticipation of his coming, by living their vocation, becoming friends with the Lord, and not letting the thief that is sin break into the house of their souls.

And that’s why I told the story of the Pope -- encouraging the children to prepare for Christmas by going to confession so that they may receive the child Jesus worthily and with love. If the Pope can examine his conscience and find reasons to go to confession, then certainly you and I, when we examine our conscience, can find reasons to go to confession. And during this time of Advent, we have a double motivation: not only because its good for us as we await Jesus’ second coming, but also because confession is a way to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming.

And if we can do what Jesus asks, and always be ready, especially through regular confession, then the Lord’s second coming will not catch us like a thief in the night, but instead, we will be able to say to him, “Oh, hi Lord, I was just thinking about you; I was waiting for your arrival; and meanwhile, I was doing what you asked me to do.”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving to Christ our King

Homily, Christ the King, Cycle C
St. Joseph's, Dalton, Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

Over the years, my mother has always had a knack for getting her letters to the editor published. For some reason, they really like her down at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Well, years ago, they published a letter of hers in the “Faith and Values” section that focused on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the personal rituals of many different families. So I thought I’d share with you parts of her letter.

She starts by saying, “My husband of 33 years died from cancer in September of 1995. In my grief, I particularly dreaded Thanksgiving that year because it had been his favorite holiday. I felt an obligation to continue our family tradition of a large gathering of family and friends, but my heart just wasn’t in it. In my despair, I decided on a plan. I bought a small wire basket and placed a pad of post-its and a pen beside it. Every time I had something to be thankful for, I made myself write it down on the post-it and then I tossed it into the basket. Everything that lifted my spirits – simple things like a cardinal at the bird feeder, or answered prayers like the birth of a new grandchild – all were written down and tossed into that basket. By that Thanksgiving, the basket was already overflowing and I celebrated the holiday with a grateful heart. This year, over two years later, I am preparing for another Thanksgiving. In late summer, I married again to a fine gentleman who lost his wife to cancer a year before my husband died [And I would add that he is a fine gentleman, else I would not have let him marry my mother, and I’m a priest and can do that!]. Prominent in the great room where our now combined families and friends will gather is a very large laundry basket filled to overflowing [with little notes of thanksgiving].

My mother learned the necessity and benefit of giving thanks always, of the need to give God praise for all of his gifts. I’m sure that all of you, as well, if you look at your lives honestly, can find so many ways to be grateful. If you are married, thank God for your husband or wife, and if you have children, you already know the great miracle of God’s gift of new life. And if you are a young person, you can thank God for the gift of your parents. We also give thanks to God for everything in our lives: our work, our recreation, the joys and pleasures. But we can also thank him for the hardships, the sufferings, and the sorrows of life, for it is by them that we grow in virtue and character, and come to realize our constant need for God’s protection and strength.

I think one of the problems in our culture today is that we take so many things for granted, and do not realize how gifted we are… Marriages often grow cold because spouses take each others love for granted. Children become rebellious because they don’t realize the sacrifices their parents have made on their behalf. Friendships fall apart because we grow selfish and forget to think of others needs. And because we are so blessed with prosperity in this country, we take our daily bread, shelter, and comfort for granted. This attitude gives us the impression that perhaps we are our own masters, self-sufficient, turning to God only on occasion or as a last resort.

But being thankful for God’s many gifts means more than just expressing our gratitude, it means realizing that we are totally dependent on him, that we can take nothing for granted. And if that is true, then the only authentic response is to totally abandon ourselves to him, accepting his will in each and every situation, so that he is truly Lord and King or our lives. This is hard for Americans to do because we value our independence and freedom. But this should really be a joy. And the reason is simple: Christ earned the right to be our king by dying for us on the Cross. As the second reading says, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus does not exercise his kingship by lording it over us as worldly leaders do, the strong oppressing the weak. Instead,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

And we should respond in the same way, serving him by totally giving him our lives. His kingdom is not of this world, as he said to Pilate, because he wants to reign first and foremost in our hearts.

One of the ways I remind myself of the need to always be grateful to the Lord for all he has given me, especially my priesthood, is with a picture I keep in my bedroom, the first thing I see on rising every morning. It was given to me by a friend when I was ordained a priest, and it’s a simple sketch of a bishop laying hands on a young man, at the moment of ordination to the priesthood. And at the bottom, it says, “Great is this mystery, and great the dignity of priests, to whom that is given which is not granted to angels.”

And this is referring, of course, to the Eucharist. For in Communion, we receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, something which the angels can only adore and wonder at. And I have been given the great privilege of offering the Eucharist. But you, as well, can participate in this mystery by receiving Communion. And in doing so, you give thanks and praise to the heavenly Father, for that is what Eucharist means, “thanksgiving.”

The new catechism says this (CCC 1360): “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits… [it is a] sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he united the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him.”

You’ve probably heard that the Second Vatican Council encouraged the active participation of the laity in the Mass. But, the Council wasn’t referring to mere externals, it was referring first and foremost to a spiritual thanksgiving in the Eucharist. The Council said this about the laity, (LG 34) “For all their works, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshiping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.”

So, as we gather to celebrate this Eucharist today, especially as we approach our uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, we should put everything on the altar, and offer it in thanksgiving, for Christ himself will in turn unite it with his prayer and offer it to the Father. Offer him your family, your friends, your children, your parents, your work, your blessings and hardships, your pleasures and sufferings, your joys and your sorrows. Offer it all to the heavenly Father through this sacrifice of thanksgiving, and ask in return for only one thing: that Jesus be Lord and King of your life.

I look forward to this upcoming Thanksgiving, because my mother has another tradition which we all enjoy. Every year, right before the big meal of the day, she makes everyone gather in a big circle, hold hands. And then we go around the circle as each of us states one thing that we were thankful for from the past year, and then one thing that we would like to pray for for the coming year. Usually, by the time we get to the end of the circle, my mom and all her friends are crying, and the men are fidgeting, trying not to show any emotion. And certainly I have a lot to be thankful for: my new parish, a family that keeps getting bigger and bigger, another year as a priest. But of course, the thing that I will most be thankful for, the gift that gives meaning to all the gifts in life, is the gift of my Savior, Jesus Christ, my Lord and King.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I’d sink the 8-ball in the corner pocket

Homily, 33rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

When I in the seminary, we had a community room for our off-time, with a large-screen TV and a pool table. We enjoyed playing pool, and it often was the occasion for many interesting theological questions. One day, one of our friends posed this question to the group: “If you knew that the end of the world was close and that Jesus was returning in exactly one hour, what would you do?” Well, the question went around the table, as each of our friends responded differently. One said he would run to be with his family and tell them he loved them. Another said he would go shout it on the rooftops so that everyone would know. Still another said he’d give everything away (though it was kind of late for that), another would go find his worse enemy and reconcile with him, and yet another said he would rush to find a priest and make the best confession of his life. And then the question got to a friend, who thought for a moment, chalked his cue, and said, “Hmm… I’d sink the 8-ball in the corner pocket.” And he proceeded to do just that.

The obvious point is this: he was prepared at all times for the Lord’s coming, even in the midst of his ordinary life. And the Lord is coming again; we believe this. It is an article of our faith which we recite in the Creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

And so, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church reminds us of Jesus’ second coming in glory at the end of time, so that we will always be ready. For like Malachi says, “the day is coming, blazing like an oven”, and all of us here today will meet the Lord someday, face to face, as a savior and as a judge. On that day either “all the proud and evildoers will be” wiped away, or for those who fear his name, “there will arise the sun of justice (Jesus Christ) with [his] healing rays.” And that day will come upon us either at the moment of death, or “suddenly like a thief”, if we live to the Second Coming.

When I visit hospitals, oftentimes people are faced with very difficult situations and illnesses, and they always ask for the same thing: confession. Why? Because they tell me, whether they've been away from the Church for years or come every week, "Father, I want to be in a state of Grace." You see, if we are to be always prepared for the Lord’s coming, we must be in a state of Grace, in a state of friendship with him. And if we are in the state of Grace, then despite all the trials and tribulations that the Lord promises will come before the end - wars and insurrections, earthquakes, plagues and famines, or our daily trials like sickness, the loss of a loved one, job or family problems - we will have nothing to fear. St. John Chrysostom once wrote to a friend, “There is only one thing to be feared, my dear Olympias, only one trial, and that is sin. (I have told you this over and over again.) All the rest is beside the point, whether you talk of plots, feuds, betrayals, slanders, abuses, accusations, exile, sharpened swords, open sea, or universal war. Whatever they may be, they are all furtive and perishable. They touch the mortal body but wreak no harm on the watchful soul.” (NPNF v9, p289) Like the Lord said, “not a hair of your head will be harmed. By patient endurance you will save your lives.”

And there is the key to remaining in and growing in the state of Grace: patient endurance in the Christian life. And this involves several steps. First, we examine our conscience on a daily basis, and if we are aware of any serious sin, we must confess it in the sacrament of reconciliation. Then we will be able to receive the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which nourishes us on the journey and provides us with the Grace we need to live our vocation. Also, we persevere and grow in Grace by prayer, as the Lord says, “ask and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” We must look to the Lord for our daily needs, we must seek to know him, and we must let him enter into our hearts, so that he will be with us at all times.

And finally, we remain in and grown in Grace by responding to God’s Grace in our lives by serving others and performing works of charity. For as Jesus says, “You will be brought to give witness on account of it” – the grace you have received. Our faith must express itself in action, as St. James says, (James 2:26), “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

And so through these steps, examining our conscience, receiving the sacraments, prayer, and good works, we stay in Grace, and we grow in Grace. And why is that important? Well, St. John of the Cross put it this way, “How joyful would a man become if he were to be told, ‘The king is coming to stay in your house and show you his favor!’ I believe that he would not be able to eat or sleep at all. He would be constantly thinking about his preparations for the royal visit. Brothers and sisters, I say to you on behalf of the Lord God that he wants to come into your souls and establish his kingdom of peace… He comes in love, receive him in love.” (ICG, v5, 7.3)

Jesus will come again one day in glory, and he is about to come to us in a special way in the Eucharist. Are you prepared to receive him?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Martyrs for the Truth

32nd Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C
The Woman and her Seven Sons from II Maccabees 7.
Sermon by St. Augustine

Brethren, a wonderful sight is set before the eyes of our faith. We have heard with our ears, we have seen in our minds a mother, who, with a mind differing by far from that of ordinary human nature, wished her sons to leave this life before her. For all men wish to depart from this life before their children, not to follow them: she wished rather to die the last. For she did not lose her sons, but sent them before her. Neither did she consider the life they were ending, but that which they were beginning. They ceased to live a life which at some time must end with death; and they began to live one which is everlasting. The lesser wonder is it that she should watch them die; rather should we marvel that she encouraged them. Her valor was more fruitful than her child-bearing: seeing them contending, she herself contended in all those struggles, and in the triumph of all she herself conquered.

Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, "Martyrdom, the exaltation of the inviolable holiness of God's law":

91. In the Old Testament we already find admirable witnesses of fidelity to the holy law of God even to the point of a voluntary acceptance of death. A prime example is the story of Susanna: in reply to the two unjust judges who threatened to have her condemned to death if she refused to yield to their sinful passion, she says: " I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands. I choose not to do it and to fall into your hands, rather than to sin in the sight of the Lord!" (Dan 13:22-23). Susanna, preferring to "fall innocent" into the hands of the judges, bears witness not only to her faith and trust in God but also to her obedience to the truth and to the absoluteness of the moral order. By her readiness to die a martyr, she proclaims that it is not right to do what God's law qualifies as evil in order to draw some good from it. Susanna chose for herself the "better part": hers was a perfectly clear witness, without any compromise, to the truth about the good and to the God of Israel. By her acts, she revealed the holiness of God.

At the dawn of the New Testament, John the Baptist, unable to refrain from speaking of the law of the Lord and rejecting any compromise with evil, "gave his life in witness to truth and justice", and thus also became the forerunner of the Messiah in the way he died (cf. Mk 6:17-29). "The one who came to bear witness to the light and who deserved to be called by that same light, which is Christ, a burning and shining lamp, was cast into the darkness of prison... The one to whom it was granted to baptize the Redeemer of the world was thus baptized in his own blood".

In the New Testament we find many examples of followers of Christ, beginning with the deacon Stephen (cf. Acts 6:8-7:60) and the Apostle James (cf. Acts 12:1-2), who died as martyrs in order to profess their faith and their love for Christ, unwilling to deny him. In this they followed the Lord Jesus who "made the good confession" (1 Tim 6:13) before Caiaphas and Pilate, confirming the truth of his message at the cost of his life. Countless other martyrs accepted persecution and death rather than perform the idolatrous act of burning incense before the statue of the Emperor (cf.Rev 13:7-10). They even refused to feign such worship, thereby giving an example of the duty to refrain from performing even a single concrete act contrary to God's love and the witness of faith. Like Christ himself, they obediently trusted and handed over their lives to the Father, the one who could free them from death (cf. Heb 5:7).

The Church proposes the example of numerous Saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honour of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect his commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those commandments, even for the sake of saving one's own life.

93... Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment. In this he or she is sustained by the virtue of fortitude, whereby — as Gregory the Great teaches — one can actually "love the difficulties of this world for the sake of eternal rewards".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Praying for the Dead

Homily, All Souls Day
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

My favorite saints are St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica, who lived in the 5th century. Augustine was a wayward youth, and Monica prayed fervently for his conversion. She was kind of like the mother of the prodigal son. And indeed, he did convert to become one of the greatest scholars in the history of the Church.

Well, a couple of weeks before my father died, I read to him the famous passage from St. Augustine’s “Confessions” about the death of his mother. As she was approaching the end of her life, they were having a discussion about heaven, and he says they wondered what it would be like, as he says, to “share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man.” And he goes on, “We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of [the Lord's] heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.” And his mother said, “Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world...” And as she is dying, she makes one request of her son, who is a priest and a bishop, “Bury my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.”

In other words, she was asking him to pray for her after shed died, especially at Mass. And as she had prayed so many years for his conversion, so now he prayed for her after her death. (cf. HPR Nov. ’97) “O god of my heart, I do now beseech Thee for the sins of my mother. Hear me through the medicine of the wounds that hung upon the wood [of the Cross]. May she, then, be in peace with her husband. And inspire, my Lord, [all those] whom I serve [with voice and heart and pen] to remember your servant Monica at the altar.”

Well, I read that story to my father, and I promised him that I too would remember him at the altar, especially when I celebrate Mass everyday.

But why do we pray for the dead? Especially those whom we consider to be saints, those who lived heroic lives and certainly went straight to heaven, what good does it do? We know that this is a common practice from the earliest days of the church, especially when the early Christians venerated the martyrs who died in the Roman persecutions. But what does it mean?

Well, we know we can do good works for others while we are on this earth. According to the tradition of the Church, based on the Scriptures, we can perform the Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the imprisoned; bury the dead.

But, we can also perform what are called Spiritual Works of Mercy: convert the sinner; instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; comfort the sorrowful; bear wrongs patiently; forgive injuries; and finally, to pray for the living and the dead.

In other words, praying for the dead is a work of mercy. But how does it help them?

I think St. Catherine of Genoa summed it up best. She said, “No one is barred from heaven. Whoever wants to enter heaven may do so because God is all-merciful. Our Lord will welcome us into glory with his arms wide open. The Almighty is pure, however, and if a person is conscious of the least trace of imperfection and at the same time understands that Purgatory is ordained to do away with such impediments, the soul enters this place of purification gladly to accept so great a mercy of God. The worst suffering if these suffering souls is to have sinned against divine Goodness and not to have been purified in this life.” (ICG, v7, Nov2)

Just as we can help each other on our path to heaven while on this earth, we can also help those who have died and are being purified in Purgatory. While we are separated from them physically, we are not separated spiritually, so we can offer them spiritual works, which would include our prayers, sacrifices, and acts of charity. All of these acts of mercy, when done through, with, and in Christ, are of great benefit to those who have died and helps them as they are being purified. And this happens especially here at the Mass, at the altar where St. Monica wanted to be remembered. For in the Mass, we are transported through time, as it were, to the foot of Calvary, where we look up at our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross and say with the good thief, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And so it is here that we can say, “Lord, remember our loved ones who have died, and bring them into your kingdom.”

And certainly our prayers for the dead are never wasted. I remember the story of an elderly monk who was found praying fervently at the altar by one of the younger monks. And the younger one asked him, “What are you praying for?” “I’m praying for my grandfather.” “Well, certainly he is in heaven by now.” To which the older monk replied, “Ah yes, but it is the prayers I am saying now, the prayers I have said, and the prayers I will say that helped get him there.” Our prayers in union with Christ are always effective, and we can’t put limits on them.

But our prayers for the dead remind us also of our own need to prepare for death. I think a lot of people live their lives on earth doing the minimum requirements to get into heaven, as if they were shooting for purgatory. Certainly God is merciful, but my only worry about living this way is simple: What if you miss? The saints will be the first to tell you that we begin our heaven now, and this is the best time to begin the process of purification. For now, we can actively seek to purify ourselves, while in purgatory, we can only rely on the prayers of others. And the way we purify ourselves now is through growth in holiness. Through sincere repentance and penance for our sins, through prayer and sacrifice, through active works of charity for others, we grow in holiness and God’s grace purifies us as we use this life to prepare for eternal life.

And finally, another beautiful thing about praying for the dead is that it reminds us of what Jesus said, that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

What a great consolation it is to know that we can still be united with those who have died. Knowing that they are with the Lord, whether enjoying eternal happiness or in the process of being purified, and that we can still talk to them, pray for them, and even make amends with them, if necessary, saying those things we didn’t get a chance to say… knowing that is a cause of great rejoicing. For one day, we will be united with them again, where there will be no more sin, no more sorrow, no more tears, and we will never be separated from each other by sin or death again. And, in that place we care called to, the Kingdom of Heaven, “Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lilies and Roses, Daisies and Violets

Homily, All Saints Day
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

One of my favorite stories from St. Therese of Lisieux is when tells how she came to thinking of herself as a “little flower” in the garden of the Lord. She found herself pondering one day how it was that “God has his preferences”, seemingly favoring one person over another - giving one person extraordinary gifts, another only painful sufferings, and still others no visible gifts at all.

Well, she explains it this way: “Jesus has been gracious enough to teach me a lesson about this mystery, simply by holding up to my eyes the book of nature. I realized, then, that all the flowers he has made are beautiful - the rose in its glory [and] the lily in its whiteness do not rob the tiny violet of its sweet smell, or the daisy of its charming simplicity. I saw that if all these lesser blooms wanted to be roses instead, nature would lose the gaiety of her spring-tide dress - there would be no little flowers to make a pattern over the countryside.”

She goes on, “And so it is with the world of souls, which is [The Lord's] garden. He wanted to have great Saints, to be his lilies and roses, but he has made lesser Saints as well; and these lesser ones must be content to rank as daisies and violets, lying at his feet and giving pleasure to his eye like that.” And she concludes, “Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants us to be.”

Throughout the year, the Church honors all of the great Saints who have witnessed to Christ in so many ways over the centuries. We honor the martyrs, who gave their lives for Christ by being thrown to the lions or burned at the stake; we honor the doctors of the Church, who wrote great theological works with deep insight into the mystery of God; we honor the apostles and disciples who built the Church in its early days; and we honor countless heroic Saints known for their great works of charity or preaching, or their witness to poverty, chastity and obedience.

But today, on All Saints day, we honor all those Saints whom St. Therese may have called the “lesser Saints”, the little flowers – the lillies and daisies, those who have reached heaven by living lives of holiness in the midst of the ordinary. People who have lived in the midst of the world, confronting its daily challenges with joy, charity, love, and patience; the Saints who sought the will of God in their lives and then acted upon it, in whatever way he called, be it in the midst of the family, the workplace, a life of service to others, or a life of joyfully accepting the Crosses the Lord sends.

And by honoring them today, we recognize two things: first, that we are not separated from them, for we are united with them in Christ and we pray for them in the Mass, and they pray for us from heaven; and second, that the goal they have reached is our goal as well: eternal life in heaven.

La misma cuenta en español (Santa Teresita):

Durante mucho tiempo me he preguntado por qué tenía Dios preferencias, por qué no recibían todas las almas las gracias en igual medida. Me extrañaba verle prodigar favores extraordinarios a los santos que le habían ofendido, como san Pablo o san Agustín, a los que forzaba, por así decirlo, a recibir sus gracias; y cuando leía la vida de aquellos santos a los que el Señor quiso acariciar desde la cuna hasta el sepulcro, retirando de su camino todos los obstáculos que pudieran impedirles elevarse hacia él y previniendo a esas almas con tales favores que no pudiesen empañar el brillo inmaculado de su vestidura bautismal, me preguntaba por qué los pobres salvajes, por ejemplo, morían en tan gran número sin haber oído ni tan siquiera pronunciar el nombre de Dios...

Jesús ha querido darme luz acerca de este misterio. Puso ante mis ojos el libro de la naturaleza y comprendí que todas las flores que él ha creado son hermosas, y que el esplendor de la rosa y la blancura del lirio no le quitan a la humilde violeta su perfume ni a la margarita su encantadora sencillez... Comprendí que si todas las flores quisieran ser rosas, la naturaleza perdería su gala primaveral y los campos ya no se verían esmaltados de florecillas...

Eso mismo sucede en el mundo de las almas, que es el jardín de Jesús. El ha querido crear grandes santos, que pueden compararse a los lirios y a las rosas; pero ha creado también otros más pequeños, y éstos han de conformarse con ser margaritas o violetas destinadas a recrear los ojos de Dios cuando mira a sus pies. La perfección consiste en hacer su voluntad, en ser lo que él quiere que seamos...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Battle of Prayer

Homily, 29th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, Georgia

Here are some excerpts from the Catechism that I used in my sermon today on The Battle of Prayer. The Catechism is a great source for meditations. You can read the section directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in English here and en Español aquí.

ARTICLE 2 THE BATTLE OF PRAYER 2725 Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God...

I. OBJECTIONS TO PRAYER 2726 In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer. Some people view prayer as a simple psychological activity, others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void. Still others reduce prayer to ritual words and postures. Many Christians unconsciously regard prayer as an occupation that is incompatible with all the other things they have to do: they "don't have the time." Those who seek God by prayer are quickly discouraged because they do not know that prayer comes also from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves alone.

2728 Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have "great possessions," we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.

II. HUMBLE VIGILANCE OF HEART Facing difficulties in prayer 2729 The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction... To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.

2731 Another difficulty, especially for those who sincerely want to pray, is dryness. Dryness belongs to contemplative prayer when the heart is separated from God, with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones. This is the moment of sheer faith clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb...

Facing temptations in prayer 2732 The most common yet most hidden temptation is our lack of faith. It expresses itself less by declared incredulity than by our actual preferences. When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? Sometimes we turn to the Lord as a last resort, but do we really believe he is? Sometimes we enlist the Lord as an ally, but our heart remains presumptuous. In each case, our lack of faith reveals that we do not yet share in the disposition of a humble heart: "Apart from me, you can do nothing."

III. FILIAL TRUST 2734 Filial trust is tested - it proves itself - in tribulation. The principal difficulty concerns the prayer of petition, for oneself or for others in intercession. Some even stop praying because they think their petition is not heard. Here two questions should be asked: Why do we think our petition has not been heard? How is our prayer heard, how is it "efficacious"?

Why do we complain of not being heard? 2735 What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

2736 Are we convinced that "we do not know how to pray as we ought"? Are we asking God for "what is good for us"? Our Father knows what we need before we ask him, but he awaits our petition because the dignity of his children lies in their freedom. We must pray, then, with his Spirit of freedom, to be able truly to know what he wants.

2737 Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer. God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what he is prepared to give.

IV. PERSERVERING IN LOVE 2742 [St. Paul] "Pray constantly... Pray at all times in the Spirit... it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing." This tireless fervor can come only from love. Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love. This love opens our hearts to three enlightening and life-giving facts of faith about prayer.

2743 It is always possible to pray: The time of the Christian is that of the risen Christ who is with us always, no matter what tempests may arise. Our time is in the hands of God: It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop, . . . while buying or selling, . . . or even while cooking.

2744 Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin. How can the Holy Spirit be our life if our heart is far from him? Nothing is equal to prayer; for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult, easy. . . . For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin.

2745 Prayer and Christian life are inseparable, for they concern the same love and the same renunciation, proceeding from love; the same filial and loving conformity with the Father's plan of love; the same transforming union in the Holy Spirit who conforms us more and more to Christ Jesus; the same love for all men, the love with which Jesus has loved us. "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you. This I command you, to love one another."

2741 Jesus also prays for us - in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross and, in his Resurrection, heard by the Father. This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father. If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Faith in the Future

Respect Life Sunday, October 3rd, 2010, St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

I've told you all that my little sister, Andrea, is on The Amazing Race this year. Well, here's her story, as told on the Internet.

From the Fletcher Armstrong blog: Life. What a Beautiful Choice.

I love this story about a mom (Andie DeKroon) who gave her daughter up for adoption. She was unmarried and 22 years old at the time. Later, God blessed her with 10 more children.

In 2008, University of Georgia student Jenna Sykes decided that she wanted to get in touch with her birth mom. Andie agreed, so they started writing letters. Now, Jenna is about the same age as Andie was back then. And they are competing together in the upcoming season of The Amazing Race on CBS!

Think of it. Andie could have said “that baby will ruin my life.” She did’t. She had faith in the future. She loved God’s creation more than her own convenience. And now God continues to bless her with riches beyond measure.

And Youtube:

Jenna telling her story.

And our own Georgia Bulletin has been following the drama.

Wish them luck!

Friday, October 1, 2010

I will not be a Saint by halves

Quotes from The Story of a Soul on this Memorial in honor of Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower.

One day Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: "Here, dears," she said, "choose whatever you like." Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: "I choose everything," and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.

This childish incident was a forecast, so to speak, of my whole life. Later on, when the way of perfection was opened out before me, I realised that in order to become a Saint one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of Our Lord, to do much or little for His Love--in a word, to choose amongst the sacrifices He asks. And then also, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: "My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest."

Cuenta de Santa Teresita en Historia de un Alma:

Un día, Leonia, creyéndose ya demasiado mayor para jugar a las muñecas, vino a nuestro encuentro con una cesta llena de vestiditos y de preciosos retazos para hacer más. Encima de todo venía acostada su muñeca. «Tomad, hermanitas -nos dijo-, escoged, os lo doy todo para vosotras». Celina alargó la mano y cogió un mazo de orlas de colores que le gustaba. Tras un momento de reflexión, yo alargué a mi vez la mano, diciendo: «¡Yo lo escojo todo!», y cogí la cesta sin más ceremonias. A los testigos de la escena la cosa les pereció muy justa, y ni a la misma Celina se le ocurrió quejarse (aunque la verdad es que juguetes no le faltaban, pues su padrino la colmaba de regalos, y Luisa encontraba la forma de agenciarle todo lo que deseaba).

Este insignificante episodio de mi infancia es el resumen de toda mi vida. Más tarde, cuando se ofreció ante mis ojos el horizonte de la perfección, comprendí que para ser santa había que sufrir mucho, buscar siempre lo más perfecto y olvidarse de sí misma. Comprendí que en la perfección había muchos grados, y que cada alma era libre de responder a las invitaciones del Señor y de hacer poco o mucho por él, en una palabra, de escoger entre los sacrificios que él nos pide. Entonces, como en los días de mi niñez, exclamé: «Dios mío, yo lo escojo todo. No quiero ser santa a medias, no me asusta sufrir por ti, sólo me asusta una cosa: conservar mi voluntad. Tómala, ¡pues "yo escojo todo" lo que tú quieres...!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Why be Catholic? What else is there?

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr. (homily from the archives)

The late Southern writer, Walker Percy, was a good Louisianan and a convert to Catholicism who was frequently asked why he became a Catholic. And sometimes, he would reply with a smile by saying, “What else is there?” But usually he would reply very simply, “The reason I am a Catholic is that I believe that what the Catholic Church proposes is true.” (Signposts, p. 304)

But what does this mean then for other religions? Does this mean that those outside the Catholic faith or those who are not even Christian cannot be saved? In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus seeking out the one lost sheep to return him to the fold, and certainly the Lord desires that his Church be one and that all people come to know the truth.

To me, this is the beauty of Catholic teaching. Let’s look at first what the Catholic Church teaches about herself. (CCC 816) “The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God."”

As St. Paul said today, “the grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” In other words, this overflowing faith which St. Paul professed was the Catholic faith. And the Catholic Church was founded by Christ on Peter, to whom he gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and it has been sustained through the ages by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This Church contains the “fullness of the means of salvation.” And what are those means? Primarily, they are the one faith we profess in our Creed, the one worship we celebrate at the altar, and the one shepherd, the Pope, who guides us as the successor of Peter (cf. CCC 815), the Holy Scriptures, the other sacraments, and the teaching of the Church on how to live a holy life of faith, hope and love in today’s world. Through these means, if we are faithful and live a life of Grace, we can attain salvation by God’s gift. Simply belonging to the Catholic Church doesn’t guarantee us salvation, but following her teachings and using the means that Christ has made available in the Church is indeed the doorway to salvation.

What about other Christian denominations or other religions? The Vatican Council taught, (CCC 819) “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church.”

In other words, the Church recognizes the good things to be found in other religions, indeed the things we share in common. All of that is a work of God and the Catholic Church affirms that. As the Second Vatican Council explained: with our Protestant friends, we share a common love of our Lord and the Holy Scriptures (cf. CCC 838). With our Jewish friends, who were the first to receive the Word of God and the Covenants, we share faith in the one God and a common expectation for the coming of (or return of) the Messiah (cf. CCC 839, 840). Even with Muslims, we share the faith of Abraham and adore the one God (cf. CCC 841). So for these people, if they are interested in the Catholic faith, we do not require them to renounce their faith, but instead to see the things that we share in common, and then show them how embracing the Catholic faith will bring them to the fullness of the means of salvation.

But what of those who have no faith whatsoever? Certainly America makes it very easy for one to live a totally secular life, seeing no need for God. For them, I think of what Saint Paul said today, “but because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully.” The Church teaches this, (CCC 847) “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.” Salvation is a possibility for them, and God will judge them by how they have responded to his voice in their hearts.

Now, some may hear all this and wonder: then why bother sharing our faith, why bother becoming a Catholic, why bother evangelizing and spreading the Gospel of Christ? Why? Because Jesus said, “Who among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wasteland and follow the lost one till he finds it?” He also said (John 10:10), “I came so that they might have life and have it to the full.” In other words, while elements of truth and sanctification are indeed found outside the Catholic faith, Jesus wants all people to share in the fullness of the truth which can be found in the Catholic Church. He gave the Church these means so that we might have the fullness of life in him.

The Second Vatican Council explained it this way, (CCC 851) “Indeed, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"; that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.” In other words, we must go out and meet those who are seeking and searching, we must go out and meet those who are lost and cannot find their way, we must go out and share our faith and invite them to its fullness. God has placed that desire in their heart, and we must go out and meet that desire to show them the fullness of the faith. Evangelization meets people where they are at with respect, and invites them to experience the fullness of their desires.

But what about fallen away Catholics? I’ve met many former Catholics who say that they did not know Christ until they met him in another denomination. Often times this happens if they were raised in a home where the faith wasn’t too important, or perhaps if they were harmed by someone in the Church. To them, we need to remind then that the Church is holy because Christ is holy, but her members are not always holy. We need to invite them back to see that Christ indeed is present in the Catholic Church, and that through forgiveness, reconciliation, and coming to understand the fullness of the Church’s teaching, they can discover that and meet him fully in the Church he founded.

If we believe that the Church contains the fullness of salvation as Christ taught, then we will not be afraid to share it or make it known. For indeed that is the desire of Jesus. He wants all his people to be united one day with him in his heavenly Kingdom, where there will be “much rejoicing and much joy before the angels of God.”

Here's a good website to begin your journey: Fullness of Truth. And a good bookstore.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Building the Kingdom of Heaven

Homily 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time C (Partial)
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.'”

Let's look at this parable from God’s perspective. God wanted to build a tower. The tower is the Kingdom of Heaven, which would bring about the Salvation of the people he loved, us, even though we had sinned. He sat down to calculate the cost, and while theologians say that there are many ways in which God could have saved us, he chose the most perfect way, the way that would show us the infinite depth of his love. He chose to become one of us. So, the Word was made Flesh, God became Man, Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus is the foundation, the cornerstone of the tower that is the Kingdom of Heaven. As St. Peter said, 1 Peter 2:4-7, “Come to Jesus, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”

By becoming one of us, Jesus then shared with us his life and teaching, the path to salvation, the path to our place in the Kingdom of Heaven. But he wanted us to cooperate with him in building this tower, so he founded the Church, which would continue his mission to all peoples in all ages. St. Peter described it this way, “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it says in scripture: "Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame."”

And God is not like the foolish builder in the parable, who did not plan well enough to complete the tower. So Jesus made a few promises to see that his plan would be fulfilled. First, he said, Matthew 16:18-19, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven."” In doing this, he gave his Church authority and promised that even the gates of hell would not conquer it. How would this happen? He promised to send a helper, an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. In John’s Gospel he says, almost anticipating the tough journey that lay ahead for the Church, John 16:12-13, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.” The Holy Spirit would be with the Church to guide it to all truth in the midst of the confusion and perplexity of the modern world. Finally, in his great commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, Matthew 28:18-20, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” He sent the Apostles out to continue building the Tower, the Kingdom of Heaven, and most importantly, he promised to be with us always, especially in the teachings of and sacraments of the Church.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Have You Been Saved?

Homily, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, Georgia

Years ago, I was visiting an 80 year old man who had moved to Atlanta from the North over 50 years ago. At the time, he went to work for a bank and quickly made several friends. Well, one Monday morning his friends around the water cooler were discussing the previous day’s sermons at each of their churches (I guess it wasn't football season), and they asked him what church he was going to. When he said “Sacred Heart Catholic Church”, the conversation stopped, total silence. And one of his friends walked up to him, looked at him closely, his head and his back, and then said, “You know, you’re the first Catholic I’ve ever met, and until now, I’ve been taught to believe that Catholics had horns and tails.”

My father grew up in West Georgia as the only Catholic in his high school, and he told me similar stories. But, over the last 50 years things have gotten a little better for Catholics in the South. Now there are many more of us, and our Protestant friends have gotten to know us and seen that we’re reasonably normal. And that’s good, but I do occasionally hear of people who question our Catholic faith and wonder about us. In fact, I imagine that many of you may have been asked by a friend that all too familiar question, “Have you been saved?”

That seems to be an old question, since someone asked Jesus as in today’s Gospel a similar question, “Lord, are they few in number who are saved?” And Jesus then explains that one must “enter by the narrow door.” So, how do we enter this narrow door, how do Catholics answer the question, “Have you been saved?”

First we need to ask the question, “Saved from what?” To answer that, we need to go back to the Garden of Eden. In the garden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They were friends of God and shared in his life. This friendship with God is what the Church has called sanctifying grace.

But, as the Scriptures tell us, they sinned and were expelled from the Garden. They were punished – he to sweat and toil over the earth, she to give birth in pain. But the worse punishment was that they were no longer able to walk and talk with God in the garden. They lost his friendship, and that was perhaps the most painful of all, having exchanged friendship with God for the lies of the devil, they exchanged the garden of paradise for dust.

So if we want to be saved, we must somehow be restored to friendship with God. How was this accomplished? We couldn’t do it on our own. Indeed, the history of salvation tells us that it could only be accomplished in one way: by God’s becoming one of us. Jesus said (John 15:13-15), “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one's friends.” By becoming one of us and laying down his life for us, Jesus showed us the greatest love that one can have for a friend, so in him, we are restored to friendship with God.

So what is our role in this? If we want to share in the salvation won by Christ on his Cross, we must become friends with Jesus. If we do not, then we will hear the dreadful words mentioned in the Gospel, “Away from me, I don’t know you.”

How do we become friends with Jesus? How do we get to know him? Our non-Catholic friends will sometimes say that this is a one-time act, that if you accept Jesus as your savior, then your salvation is assured, no matter what happens. We believe that that first step is essential, but also that salvation is a life-long process. Just as a friendship or relationship grows and deepens over time, so also our relationship with the Lord grows and deepens over time. And this is accomplished in many ways.

First and foremost, through prayer, intimate conversation with him. You get to know someone by talking with them. And a friend is someone you share everything with: your hopes and joys, your sorrows, hardships and disappointments, the big events of life, and the daily routine. And since Jesus is our Lord and God, we can also share with him those most intimate secrets of our hearts, knowing he will forgive our faults when we humbly acknowledge them, and that he will respond to the longings of our hearts if we but trust in him.

A friend is someone who is true to you, so we show our friendship to the Lord by being true to him, and this is done primarily in the keeping of his commandments. Jesus says several times in John’s Gospel (John 15:14), “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 14:15), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:21), “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 15:10), “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.” He’s pretty clear about this one, which is why sin, the breaking of God’s commandments separates us from him and causes us to lose his friendship.

We can keep from sin and deepen our friendship with the Lord by practicing our faith. Because Jesus founded the Church on the apostles who have passed on the faith to us, he gave the Church what we call “the fullness of the means of salvation.” He promised that he would be with the Church till the end of time, that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide it to all truth, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Because of this, we know that the teaching of the Church is reliable and true. If we follow these teachings, despite pressures from the world to conform to the spirit of the age, then we are indeed friends of Jesus.
In the Church, we especially meet our Lord in the Sacraments. In Baptism, we are cleansed of sin and united to his death and resurrection, and in Confession, he renews us continually. In Confirmation, we are given special gifts of the Holy Spirit by which we are to serve him. In Anointing of the Sick, he heals us, comforts us, and gives us strength. In the sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders, we learn the true meaning of self-giving love in different ways. But most especially, we meet our Lord in the Eucharist, where we gather as a community of his friends to worship and he becomes food for our journey in this life, an intimate companion we receive in his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Finally, we become friends of Jesus by becoming friends with his people, especially those who are closest to his heart. (Matthew 25:40), “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
As James says(James 2:23-24), “Abraham … was called the friend of God… a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” So we show our friendship by our works, they are proofs of our love.

This friendship begins now, and continues into the next life. Heaven is Jesus. So Heaven begins now. If you honestly live your faith as a friend of Jesus, then you need have nothing to fear from death, for death will be simply the removing of the veil of faith that has kept us from seeing our Lord face-to-face. St. Paul says (1 Cor. 13:12-13), “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith gives way to sight, hope gives way to possession. The essence of friendship is love, so that will remain in heaven.

So, next time you are asked, “Are you saved?” Remember what Jesus said, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Your reply should be, “Yes, indeed, I am a friend of Jesus.”