Sunday, November 25, 2012

La Fundación de Santo Toribio Romo, Chatsworth


Homilía - La Vida de Santo Toribio Romo y Nuestras Metas
Misa de Fundación, Fiesta de Cristo Rey, 25 Noviembre, 2012
Iglesia Católica de Santo Toribio Romo, Chatsworth, Georgia USA
Padre Paul D. Williams, Jr., párroco

Los testigos que le conocieron a Toribio Romo hablan de él dando una lista de cualidades y de virtudes que lo igualan a los demás mártires que la Iglesia ha engendrado en sus veinte siglos de historia: fuerte espíritu de caridad, pasión por la Iglesia, amor a la Eucaristía (sobre todo se le veía esto en su manera de celebrar la Misa) y a la Virgen de Guadalupe, amor a obreros y a los niños. Así mismo, destacó por su pobreza de vida y austeridad. Él era un sacerdote y se consagró a ejercer su ministerio espiritual en bien de todos.

Leyendo la historia de la vida de nuestro Patrón, estoy pensando en las virtudes de él que nos enseña sobre nuestra Misión de iglesia. La tarea, el deber, la lucha de nuestra nueva iglesia aquí en Chatsworth. Pienso que podemos resumirla en cinco temas: La familia, la evangelización, la justicia, la eucaristía, y la entrega.

La Familia Toribio Romo nació en el rancho de Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalostotitlán. Creció y se educó en una familia cristiana, en un pueblo sencillo y fervoroso en la fe. Desde niño Tori estuvo muy unido de modo especial a su hermana mayor María, “Quica”, quien hizo las veces de segunda madre y le inculcó un gran amor por la Santísima Virgen. También estuvo muy unido a Román, su hermano menor, quien también llegó al sacerdocio y vivió como él las penurias de la persecución contra la Iglesia y sus ministros.

En una ocasión, allá en Santa Ana de Guadalupe, `Quica´ y su hermana Hipólita, a quien cariñosamente decían `Pola´, se encontraban haciendo una alba debajo de un mezquite, para el Cantamisa del Padre Juan Pérez, quien iba a celebrar ahí. El pequeño Toribio, de cuatro o cinco años de edad, rondaba el lugar; llegándose a ellas tocó el alba y preguntó a Quica: -¿Qué están haciendo?... -Una alba para el padre. -`¿Algún día me pondré una de éstas?... Pola se volteó y le dijo: `No se hizo la miel para el hocico de los burros´. Quica, como reprendiendo a su hermana, respondió a Toribio: `Sí, no se hizo... pero tú te pondrás una de éstas´»... Estas palabras resultaron proféticas.

"La familia", dice Juan Pablo II, "es la primera y más importante escuela de amor... La grandeza y la responsabilidad de la familia están en ser la primera comunidad de vida y amor, el primer ambiente en donde el hombre puede aprender a amar y a sentirse amado, no sólo por otras personas, sino también y ante todo por Dios".

En la familia es donde se hace posible el amor, el amor sin condiciones; los padres que inician la familia con una promesa de amor quieren a sus hijos porque son sus hijos, no en razón de sus cualidades. Es en el seno familiar donde cultivamos lo humano del hombre, donde aprende el cultivo de las virtudes: el amor, la honradez, la generosidad, la responsabilidad, el amor al trabajo, la gratitud, etc. El amor de la familia debe trasmitirse a la sociedad.

Esta es la primera meta de nuestra iglesia: para formar familias buenas, familias santas, familias que siguen a Cristo, para transmitir al mundo este amor.

La Evangelización/Catequesis Y esta es nuestra segunda meta: la evangelización, transmitiendo al mundo el amor de Cristo.

Desde su ingreso al seminario, Toribio dedicaba todo el tiempo que le permitían sus labores de estudiante a la catequesis de los niños. Todos los domingos salía a los ranchos a dar doctrina a los niños y a los grandes... Como cura, se lanza con su obsesión de catequista, establece centros de instrucción religiosa en todas las manzanas del pueblo y en todos los ranchos de la parroquia, funda la Cruzada Eucarística de los niños, establece centros para obreros, del catecismo parroquial, abre una escuela para catequistas...

Empezando con el amor en la familia, continuamos en la educación de los niños, la catequesis en la fe. Formamos buenas catequistas para formar nuestros niños en la fe de Cristo. Y esta formación continua por toda la vida.

Y parte de la formación en la fe es la evangelización... para compartir nuestra fe con nuestros vecinos, nuestros compañeros de trabajo, los estudiantes en nuestras escuelas, y nuestros enemigos...

Como podemos evangelizar nuestros prójimos? Sencillo: invítalos. La fe es una invitación de Dios a compartir en su amor. La evangelización es el mismo.

La Justicia Nuestro patrón, Santo Romo, era muy ocupado con la justicia, las enseñanzas de la iglesia sobre los problemas sociales. Con otros seminaristas formaron la Asociación Católica de la Juventud Mexicana y se dedicaron a círculos de estudio y se dedicaron a los obreros, estableciendo escuelas nocturnas, estudiando la Enciclica Rerum Novarum de S.S. León XIII; y desde entonces mostró una sensibilidad especial por los problemas sociales y sindicales de los obreros y sus familias, cuya existencia transcurría entre la marginación y la pobreza.


A finales del siglo XIX, los obreros tenían que aguantar jornadas de 18 horas de trabajo intenso, salarios de hambre y miseria y unas condiciones inhumanas de vivienda. También era común la explotación a niños y mujeres en las fábricas. Esta situación tenía que cambiar. La Iglesia se puso de parte del trabajador con la carta del Papa León“Rerum Novarum”, en donde explicaba cómo estaba la situación obrera, y defendiendo la justicia y a los trabajadores. La solución que daba fue la caridad, pasaba por que el Estado, la Iglesia, el trabajador y el empresario tenían que trabajar juntos. “La Carta Magna del Trabajo” tuvo una gran influencia.

Defendiendo los pobres y los trabajadores causaba muchas problemas para Padre Tori, pero sequía luchando por la justicia. Fue muy difícil especialmente en el tiempo de persecución de la iglesia católica en Mexico en aquel tiempo.

El padre Toribio escribió en su diario: …"Pido a Dios verdadero mande que cambie este tiempo de persecución. Mira que ni la Misa podemos celebrar tus Cristos; sácanos de esta dura prueba, vivir los sacerdotes sin celebrar la Santa Misa… Sin embargo, qué dulce es ser perseguido por la justicia. Tormenta de duras persecuciones ha dejado Dios venir sobre mi alma pecadora. Bendito sea El..."

Se continua hoy en día la injusticia contra los pobres y los trabajadores, los niños y las mujeres, los bebés en el vientre, los ancianos, los inmigrantes... Nuestra tercer meta es para luchar por la justicia en el mundo de hoy, empezando en nuestra iglesia, comunidad, estado y país.

La Eucaristía Una mañana de Pascua a la edad de siete años, Toribio recibió por primera vez la Sagrada Comunión. El Sacerdote que le dio la Primera comunión, les decía a los niños “Este es, queridos niños, el día mas feliz de toda su vida”, por la noche, Toribio le decía a Maria su hermana: “Se esta acabando el día mas feliz de mi vida…” – No Toribio, este día el Niñito Jesus se entrego a ti, para toda la vida… pero el día que tu seas sacerdote, tu, te entregaras a El, para toda la eternidad…

Su gran amor a la Eucaristía le hacía repetir con frecuencia esta oración: "Señor, perdóname si soy atrevido, pero te ruego me concedas este favor: no me dejes ni un día de mi vida sin decir la Misa, sin abrazarte en la Comunión… dame mucha hambre de Ti, una sed de recibirte que me atormente todo el día hasta que no haya bebido de esa agua que brota hasta la Vida Eterna, de la roca bendita de tu costado herido. ¡Mi Buen Jesús!, yo te ruego me concedas morir sin dejar de decir Misa ni un solo día."

La iglesia nos enseña que “La Eucaristía es ‘fuente y cima de toda la vida cristiana’. ‘Los demás sacramentos están unidos a la Eucaristía y a ella se ordenan. La sagrada Eucaristía, en efecto, contiene todo el bien espiritual de la Iglesia, es decir, al propio Cristo, nuestra Pascua’. La Eucaristía significa y realiza la comunión de vida con Dios y la unidad del Pueblo de Dios, la Iglesia. En ella se encuentra Cristo, y Dios santifica al mundo. Finalmente, por la celebración eucarística nos unimos ya a la Liturgia del Cielo y anticipamos la vida eterna, cuando Dios será todo en todos.

En resumen, la Eucaristía es el compendio y la suma de nuestra fe. Así pues, nuestra cuatra meta es para ser un pueblo eucarístico, celebrando la misa con devoción, comulgando con la pureza del corazón.

La Entrega Fué la fiesta de Cristo Rey, 1927, y el Padre Tori fue celebrando la misa en el Cerrito de Cristo Rey. Todo el pueblo se volcó sobre la montaña y casi de todos los ranchos acudieron a la fiesta. Más de quince mil asistieron a la Misa en la que estuvo expuesto el Santísimo y delante de El, se hizo juramento de defender la fe, aún a costa de la propia vida y la montaña se estremeció con los gritos de ¡Viva Cristo Rey!

El 12 de diciembre de 1927, celebró la Misa de primera comunión de 20 niños. Con fervor extraordinario y, a la hora de impartir la Sagrada Comunión, dialogó con los niños para que reiteraran su fe y su amor a Jesucristo y pidieran por la paz de la Iglesia. Teniendo en sus manos temblorosas la sagrada hostia le dijo a Jesús: “¿Aceptarás mí sangre, Señor”? Por un instante no pudo continuar porque las lágrimas se lo impedían y cuando pudo pronunciar palabra repitió la frase: “¿Y aceptarás mi sangre Señor, que te ofrezco por la paz de la Iglesia?”.

El padre Toribio había ofrecido su sangre por la paz de la Iglesia y pronto el Señor aceptó el ofrecimiento. Sus enemigos lo buscaban con rabia y odio criminal. Los soldados lo descubrieron en su escondite el 25 de enero de 1928.

Uno de los soldados abrió la habitación donde estaba el Padre Toribio, y quitándole el brazo que le cubría la cara, gritó: “Sí, éste es el Cura, ¡mátenlo!”. En aquél momento despertó sorprendido el Padre Toribio y dijo: “Sí soy, pero no me maten…” Sin dejarlo terminar la frase, lo acribillaron en medio de insultos; el Padre Toribio, con pasos vacilantes, caminó hacia la puerta y una segunda descarga lo hizo caer. Su hermana Quica corrió hacia él y lo tomó entre sus brazos; con voz fuerte le dice: “Valor, Padre Toribio… ¡Jesús Misericordioso, recíbelo! ¡Viva Cristo Rey!”. Con una última mirada, el Padre Toribio se despidió de aquella hermana que le llevó al sacerdocio y al martirio.

Nuestra quinta meta es la entrega total de nuestro ser, ofreciendo nuestras vidas, nuestra iglesia, todos, al servicio al Señor, como nuestro Patrón, Santo Toribio.

Viva Cristo Rey!
Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!
Viva Santo Toribio Romo!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fame in Heaven


Homily, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA

In his book, “The Great Divorce”, which explores in story-form the differences between heaven and hell, C.S. Lewis gives beautiful descriptions of heaven. The premise of the book is a man's journey towards heaven, on which he learns through various events what heaven is all about. Towards the end of the book, the man and his “Teacher”, a guide somewhat like a guardian angel, see a large procession coming towards them - what seemed like a river of dancing light. It turns out to be a procession of people, led first by angels who were dancing and scattering flowers. Then following were hundreds of young boys and girls singing songs that, the man describes, would bring eternal youth to the hearer if they could be heard on earth. Then the musicians and other people... and even animals - cats, dogs, horses and birds. And the whole procession is being offered in honor of one woman in the center of it all, whose beauty can’t be described in mere human words. The man immediately suspects that this must be the Virgin Mary and asks his guide, “Is it? ... Is it?” And his guide says, “No, not at all. It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.” The man protests, “But she seems to be a person of particular importance.” “Ah, she is one of the great ones. Remember that fame in this country and fame on earth are two different things.” “Who are all these people?” “Those are members of her family - every person she met became part of her family through the abundance of life she had in Christ, and the love she had spread like the waves from a rock thrown in a pond - no one knows where it will end.”

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (October 1st), most commonly known as the “Little Flower”, is a “Doctor of the Church.” Though she wrote only one book, a memoir intended for her family and superiors, she is a master of spirituality of the Church.  She has a beautiful story to explain why she considered herself a "little flower" in the garden of the Lord. She writes that 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.” She concludes, “Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants us to be.”

In today’s Gospel, James and John were seeking greatness and importance, “Lord, see to it that we sit, one at your right and the other at your left, when you come into your glory.” And Jesus gently reminds them that the only way to greatness is through service, which he showed through the Cross.

But what strikes me about what St. Therese said and what Jesus says in today’s Gospel is that he does want us to strive for greatness, not in the world’s eyes, but in heaven’s eyes. After all, he says, “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” And throughout the Gospels, Jesus speaks about the rewards that await us in heaven if we do his will on earth by giving of ourselves and serving others. At the end of the Beatitudes, he says, (Mt. 5: 12), “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” In the Sermon on the Mount he says, (Mt. 6:19), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, but store up treasures in heaven.” And he says that when you fast, pray, and give alms, you should do so in secret, without drawing attention to yourself , “And your Father in Heaven who sees in secret will repay you.” In other words, what we do in this life matters. Our actions have eternal consequences. Jesus says that some will be called great and others called least in the kingdom. By our actions now, we determine our greatness in heaven.

The reason St. Therese is a doctor of the Church is that she taught how we can achieve this greatness even in the midst of our daily life. Her secret was that she learned how to do small acts with great love. When she was sick and having trouble walking, she would offer the pain for missionaries around the world. When she was not receiving any consolation in prayer, she would persevere despite the hardships. When she had reason to be annoyed by another nun, she would not be impatient but instead thank the Lord for another opportunity for mortification. If others thought ill of her, she rejoiced, knowing that if she deserved it, she would take it as correction, but if she was innocent, she would delight that she was sharing in Jesus’ suffering.

Now, this great love that she showed in small actions came from her docility to God’s will, but she was no weakling or pushover. She was very strong-willed, it’s just that her will was properly ordered towards the Lord. She had great confidence in God’s help. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in the time of need.” There’s a delightful story about her trip to Rome, where along with hundreds of other pilgrims, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, she attended a papal audience. Most present were allowed to receive the Pope’s blessing and kiss his ring, but they were strictly forbidden to speak. But Therese got up her courage and when it was her turn, she said, “Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!” She had just turned fifteen and wanted to enter the Carmelite Convent, but she was too young. The Holy Father looked at her gently and told her, “Do whatever your superiors tell you.” But she didn’t give up, “Oh! Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!” And how could he not give in to such a beautiful child, so he said, “Go… go… You will enter if God wills it.”

And each of us can be filled with that great love and confidence, even in the midst of our daily life. Wherever we happen to find ourselves, we can serve the Lord, grow in holiness, and strive for sanctity. When we are driving, we can be patient and not grow angry with others. When we are at work, we can refrain from engaging in the all too common office gossip that belittles and defames others. With our gifts and talents, we can choose to support the Church and other worthy charities rather than get caught up in this materialistic and consumerist culture. In our families, prayer, weekly attendance at Mass, and seeking the Lord’s will can be an integral part of our lives, rather than an afterthought. When an illness or cross comes our way, we can bear it, imitating our Lord’s Cross.

You know, whether we see ourselves as a rose or lily, violet or daisy in the eyes of the Lord, if we seek joy on this earth and eternal happiness in God’s Kingdom, we need only remember what St. Therese said: “Perfection consists simply in doing his will, and being just what he wants us to be.”  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who You Are


Homily, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA

A friend of mine told me that he had dinner with a friend a few weeks ago, and that his friend brought along her roommate, a young woman who had recently graduated from college with a degree in nursing. Well, during the course of the evening, they talked, and it seemed that the young woman was very depressed. Apparently, her father had been telling her her whole life that she was overweight, and the men she knew in college were only interested in comparing her to the women they saw in the movies. And this was tearing her apart.

So he did what any good Southern gentleman and Christian would do, he told her not to let others judge her by her looks, that indeed she was very pretty. He praised her desire to be a nurse, because it was a beautiful thing to want to give of yourself in service to others, and he told her that no one had the right to treat her as an object, to harass her about her weight, or to hold her to impossible standards.

And you know what? It was the first time she had ever heard it. Perhaps that shouldn’t surprise us, with all the images we see in the media, but no one had ever told her those things before. My friend tells me that she lit up and went home seemingly renewed, just from his simple words of kindness. And reflecting on the experience, he wrote this to me: “why is it that I am so much more concerned with what’s happening in the life of this girl, a stranger to me, than I am concerned with my career or in getting what I want? [He goes on:] I know the answer: it’s Jesus, and the effect of putting Him above everything else. What’s happening in the life of this suffering stranger is, I’m surprised to say, of paramount importance to me.”

As he realized, it is of paramount importance that we know who Jesus is, Who do you say that I am?” Because if we do not know who he is, then we do not know ourselves, and we cannot know each other. Pope John Paul likes to quote the Second Vatican Council and say this: Jesus Christ “fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” [for all quotes, cf. Redemptor hominis 8, Gaudium et spes 22]

Well, let’s take a look at what Jesus Christ reveals to us about ourselves and each other. The first thing that He reveals to us is our dignity as human persons. The catechism speaks of human dignity in this way: (CCC 357) “Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of the human person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession, and of freely giving himself and entering into a communion with other persons.”

Because of this great dignity, we have certain rights, which are inherent to our very nature as human persons created in God’s image and likeness: the right to life, work, truth, and self-determination. No one has the right to treat you as an object, to be used or abused for mere economic gain or selfish gratification, because God has made you “a little less than the angels” (Heb. 2:7) And no one has the right to judge you by your sex, skin color, weight, nationality, or abilities and disabilities, because when God looks at you, He sees His creation, and all of his works are good (Gen. 1:31).

In other words, no one has the right to treat as anything other than what you are: a child of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of the Body of Christ. And it is in Jesus Christ, the God-man, that we know this is true... He who is the Son of God became one of us! The Vatican Council would say this about his role: “human nature as He assumed it ... has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect... For by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every human person. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”

And that is the next important thing that Jesus Christ reveals about us: we are sinners. Perhaps like the young woman my friend met, we are sometimes “more sinned against than sinning”, but nevertheless, we are sinful and weak, and we cannot save ourselves.

Yes, we are created in God’s image and likeness, but our very nature has been wounded by sin, and we need to be healed from that sin. And that can only happen through Jesus Christ, for only he, being sinless, could pay the price for our sins, only He could fulfill the prophecy of Isiah, "I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard."

Again, the Vatican Council would say, “[Jesus] restores [in us] the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward.” And because we have received such a great gift, Redemption from our sins, then we now have certain obligations, certain duties: to respect life, to seek God's will and live our vocations, to seek the truth, to respect others, free of anger, fear, prejudice, or discrimination - avoiding those things incompatible with God’s design of the human heart (CCC 1935).

The final thing which Jesus wishes reveals to us is that if we follow in his steps, we will discover the true meaning of love. When Peter answered Jesus’ question and said, “[You are] the Messiah of God”, he had perhaps only a vague idea of what that meant, because Jesus felt the need to explain further, “The Son of Man must first endure many sufferings, be rejected..., and be put to death, and then be raised up on the third day.”

There are a lot of ideas out there today about what love is, most of them false, some of them partially true, but there is only one way in which you can truly come to know that fullness of love, and that is in knowing Jesus Christ. True love is a total gift of self, and Jesus Christ showed us the way by giving Himself completely for our sake on the Cross, and “no one has greater love than this...” (John 15:13)

The Vatican Council would say with St. Paul, “The Son of God ‘loved me and gave Himself up for me’ (Gal. 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.”

Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” My friend denied what the world had to say to the young woman he met. He helped her, in some small way, to discover her true self, and he was only able to do so because he knew Jesus Christ. Only by denying our selves and looking to Him will we truly discover our selves.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Signs of Sacred Things


Homily, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA

Over the years, I’ve been asked “why” about the faith many times. Why do we fast on Fridays during Lent? Why do we have to confess our sins to a priest? Why do we have to go to church every Sunday? Why do we stand and kneel and sit and make the sign of the cross and genuflect?

You can look at today’s Gospel and ask the same type of question: when he cured the man who was deaf and dumb, why did Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears, spit and touch the man’s tongue, look up to heaven, emit a groan, and then say “Ephphatha”? Why did he use all these external actions, which, by themselves, seemingly have no meaning? Why didn’t he just do what he did for the Centurion (Matthew 8:8-13) who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”? Remember how Jesus said to him, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed, even though Jesus never saw or touched the man.

Well, the answer is very simple: Although it is the words of Jesus, his divine will and power, that worked the cure of the man who was deaf and dumb, Jesus wished to use visible, material objects and actions in a way that expressed a more profound, inner meaning. In other words, he was preparing us for the sacraments, which he would institute and give to his church. St. Augustine defined a sacrament as “the visible form of invisible grace” or as “a sign of a sacred thing.” Jesus knew that after he died and rose again, he would be returning to his heavenly Father, but he wanted to remain with us in external, tangible ways. And he does this through the sacraments, as St. Leo said, “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his sacraments.”

Now there are various levels of sacraments, and many meanings to the word. At the first level are what we call “sacramentals”, which are lesser than what we know as the seven sacraments. Sacramentals are “Sacred signs, whether an object or an action, by which spiritual effects are signified and obtained by the intercession of the Church.” Sacramental objects would include things like holy water, scapulars, medals, rosaries. Sacramental actions would include blessings and exorcisms, the sign of the Cross and genuflecting.

Now what’s the difference between Sacramentals and sacraments? First, Christ instituted the sacraments directly, whereas the Church, with Christ’s authority, institutes and can change sacramentals. But they also differ in the manner of imparting grace, the manner in which they are effective. A sacrament imparts grace in virtue of the rite (the action) itself, while the grace of the sacramentals depends on the dispositions of the recipient and the intercession of the Church.

So, if you bless yourself with Holy Water and make the sign of the Cross without faith or without being well disposed, then you are simply getting your finger wet and touching your forehead, heart, and shoulders. If you get anything out of it, it will only be because someone else is praying for you. But if you do it with faith, then you are reminding yourself of your baptism, when you were baptized into Christ’s death on the Cross, and you are asking God to bless you, which he does. If you genuflect in the presence of the tabernacle without faith or without being well disposed, then you are simply touching your knee to the ground. But if you do it with faith, then you are performing an act of adoration, latria, the highest form of worship, acknowledging that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and that he is your Lord and God.

Now the seven sacraments are greater and more important than sacramentals. These sacraments are, as we all learned in CCD: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. They are greater because they were instituted by Christ himself and were entrusted to his Church so that we might share in his divine life. When celebrated worthily in faith, they confer the grace they signify. In other words, they are efficacious because it is Christ himself who is at work in the sacraments. Jesus is continuing his saving mission on earth, by allowing us to unite ourselves to his Passion and Death and the promise of the Resurrection, and he does this through his sacraments.

Now, having faith and being well-disposed to receive the sacraments is important, helping you to more fruitfully receive them, the but the sacraments work, ex opere operato, “by the very fact of the actions being performed… From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and the Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister.” Just as Christ worked the miracle with the deaf and dumb man, so he works now through the signs and symbols of the sacraments of the Church.

That is why sacraments can be received unworthily. In Baptism, through the sign of pouring the water, we really were cleansed of both original sin and personal sin, and we wear a white garment to signify this new purity, but if we fall back into sin and don’t rely on God’s grace to help avoid temptation, then we, in a sense, soil that white garment and need to be cleansed again. In Confession, we confess our sins to Christ through the sign of his priest, and we are truly forgiven by the priest with the authority of Christ, but we can dishonor that sacrament by not going or not taking it seriously. In Confirmation, the bishop anoints our forehead with sacred oil and lays hands on us, and we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we can ignore those gifts by living a worldly life instead using those gifts to build up God’s kingdom on earth. In Marriage, we join hands and exchange rings as a sign of union, pronouncing vows before Christ and his Church, and then God truly creates an indissoluble bond that man cannot break, but we can dishonor that bond by not living the promises of marriage: permanency, fidelity, and fruitfulness in love and life. In the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the body and blood of our Lord are given us under the signs of bread and wine, but if we lack faith, are not well disposed, or are in a state of sin, then we still receive Jesus in communion, only we may have offended him and prevented him from working in your soul, by our lack of faith, lack of preparation, or lack of repentance.

The Church itself is an effective sign of God’s work and presence in the world, and you can not substitute for it. In that sense, the Church is a type of sacrament, which Christ instituted. Vatican II called the Church the “universal sacrament of salvation... The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument – of communion with God and of unity among all men.” So, the Church’s first purpose is to be an instrument that unites individual people with God, and it is also a sign of that unity. But also, because the Church is Catholic, universal, it unites all peoples, from every nation, race, and language. It is a sacrament of the unity of the human race and it is Christ who works in his Church to unite all peoples to himself and to each other.

That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ, and that’s why it’s important to not only be a Catholic, but to be a practicing Catholic. By being a Catholic, you belong to the Body of Christ, which is God’s desire for the whole human race. By being a practicing Catholic, you help build up the Body of Christ. The sacraments of the Church are meant to nourish our spiritual life. And just as you can harm your physical health by not eating, so also you can harm your spiritual life by not partaking of the sacraments. And that’s why the greatest of the sacraments is the Eucharist, (John 6:51), “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” It is our viaticum, our food for the journey.

And that’s the final purpose of all the sacraments: to allow us to share in the very life of God on this earth, so that we might one day share it with him for all eternity in heaven.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

No Man Can Live Without Delight


Homily 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton, GA

When I was in the seminary, one of our professors, who was teaching us moral theology, came to class one day with a yo-yo. He took the yo-yo, held it in front of him, and started swinging it back and forth, like a pendulum. And then he called one of us up to do the same. So one of my classmates dutifully got up and started swinging the yo-yo like a pendulum. We thought this was a mildly entertaining diversion, a good way to waste class time, but then our professor asked my classmate to stop, which he did. Then he told him to close his eyes, and to visualize the yo-yo swinging like he had just been doing, to just think about it without actually swinging the yo-yo. We all laughed until our classmate actually tried it. He sat there with his eyes closed, held the yo-yo out, and then concentrated. And before you knew it, the yo-yo was swinging back and forth. We were about to laugh, but the professor told us to keep quiet, and then he asked him, “Are you thinking about swinging the yo-yo?” “Yes.” “Is the yo-yo swinging?” “Of course not.” And that’s when he told him to open his eyes, and he was surprised to see the yo-yo swinging back and forth like a pendulum.

The point of the exercise was real simple: thoughts are, in a very real sense, actions, or, at the least, what sets action into motion. Ideas have consequences, and sometimes it’s hard to stop those consequences once our thoughts set them into motion.

And this is a theme which Jesus preaches about frequently. Today, he says, “Wicked designs come from the deep recesses of the heart: (and then he lists a series of evils) All these evils come from within and render a man impure.” And he would teach this again in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not kill;' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…” “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “You have heard that it was said, 'Do not take a false oath,’… But I say to you, do not swear at all… Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.'”

Of course, nowadays, many of the evils Jesus speaks of as things which render a man impure are actually exalted as virtues. I guarantee you, you can go home tonight, on a Sunday evening during Labor Day weekend, and in less than an hour flipping through the channels on the television you will see everything which Jesus spoke of: “acts of fornication, theft, murder, adulterous conduct, greed, maliciousness, deceit, sensuality, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, an obtuse spirit.”

Now, in history and even the Bible, many of the great works of art and literature and music contain themes of lust, violence, or wickedness. But these are works of art because, as Walker Percy said (Signposts, p.365), they accurately portray “the way things are, the way people are… the truth about the human condition.” Great works of art portray sin, yes, but they also portray the consequences of sin, and they do so in a way that is not prurient or lewd, designed only to excite the senses instead of stimulating the intellect or moving the heart. And that’s what is happening in America today: these “wicked designs” are not only entertainment; they have become glorified as virtuous. Pornography is a multi-billion dollar per year industry, violence in the movies glorifies the violence that we see on the nightly news, advertisements appeal to our sensuality, greed and materialism, and much of what we see is simply arrogant and blasphemous.

Why has this happened? Well, I believe it is simply because we have lost our sense of true joy, true spirituality. St. Thomas Aquinas says (II-II.35.4.2), “No man can live without delight. This is why a man deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.”

We have killed spiritual joy in America today and that is why we have gone over to these “wicked designs”, or carnal pleasures.

So, how do we remedy this situation? Very simply, start within. And the readings today give us plenty of suggestions. The psalm says, “He who walks blamelessly and does justice, who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue.” St. James says, “Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you. Act on this word. If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves... Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world." And Moses says, “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live.” Hear the word of God, let it take root in you, and act on it. Let it transform you from within. Only then will you have life, true spiritual life, true spiritual joy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” If your heart is pure – free from lust and sensuality, violence and anger, greed and materialism, pride and arrogance – then you will be able to see God, not only in the future life that he promises, but also here and now. You will be able to see him in the community, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” You will be able to see him in the poor and the suffering, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” You will be able to see him in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist and Confession, as St. Ambrose said, “You have shown Yourself to me, O Christ, face to face. I meet You in Your sacraments.” And one day, if you prepare your hearts now, you will be able to see him face to face, when he leads us to the promised land, the kingdom of heaven, which he promises to those who love him and keep his commandments.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Be Subordinate to One Another Out of Reverence for Christ

Homily 21st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012 
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton, GA

Over the years, I’ve met many men who have never been to church, never even owned a bible, much less opened one, but who at the same time have this remarkable ability to quote the Bible from memory. And there’s one passage that they all seem to know by heart: “Wives be submissive to your husbands.” Now, they can’t quote the verse before or the verse after, but they know that verse, and they make sure their wives know it too.

If they bothered looked at the verse before and after, they might have to rethink how they use that passage. The verse before says, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And the verse after says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. He gave himself up for her to make her holy.”

With that, St. Paul is giving us a completely different view of marriage than what our society. He’s talking about mutual submission, mutual self-giving, mutual sacrifice. And this flows from the biblical understanding of marriage as a gift from God.

As the catechism says: (CCC 1604), “God who created man in love also calls him to love… For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”   Ideally, marriage should be a self-giving union between a man and woman that is love-giving, as God is love giving, and that is life-giving, cooperating with God in bringing new life into the world. And marriage also helps build up society and the community, because it is the most basic of all communities, the family.

That’s the ideal, as God intended marriage to be at the dawn of creation, but then something happened: namely, sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were wounded, both in themselves and in their relationship with each other. As the catechism says (CCC 1607), “Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations (they blamed each other and wouldn’t admit their own fault); and their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust.” And we have all inherited that wound of sin, making relationships difficult, and making us prone to (CCC 1606) “discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and suspicion.” And certainly, we see that in our society today, where, sadly, 60% of marriages fail.

 How do we remedy this situation? We can’t, but God can and did.

I recently renewed the marriage vows of my mother and step-father on their fifteenth anniversary. When I presided at their wedding fifteen years ago, we did something unique. When we exchanged the vows, their hands were joined around a crucifix that I had blessed. This is a custom that comes from Croatia and Bosnia, and the point of it is real simple: the priest usually says to the couple, “Now that your hands are joined in Christ, realize that in marriage you must take up your Cross, deny yourself and follow Jesus.” And then he usually adds, “if you let go of Christ, you let go of each other, and if you let go of each other, you must let go of Christ.”

That’s a reality in marriage a lot of people learn, sometimes the hard way: that marriage requires the embracing of the Cross. And both my mom and step-dad learned that in their first marriages – both lost their spouse to cancer and stood by them faithfully during their suffering. It was hard, yes, but through the Cross, they learned the true meaning of love.

That’s the remedy for sin, the healing of our relationships, that God gave us: Christ and his Cross. As the catechism says, (CCC 1615), “By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, [Jesus] himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage… It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that the spouses will be able to receive the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. The grace of Christian marriage is the fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.”

 In other words, the only way to live marriage as God originally intended, as a life-giving, love-giving, totally self-giving union of a man and a woman, we need God’s help, and he gives us that help through the Cross. All grace flows from the sacrifice of Christ on Cross, so the grace of marriage (indeed, all the sacraments) is rooted in the Cross.

 It’s never too late to embrace the Cross and to ask for the sacramental grace to strengthen a marriage. A while back, I was speaking to some long time friends of my family, and the husband said to me, "Today is our wedding anniversary." I said, That’s great, how long have you been married? And he said to me, "We’ve been married 35 years. 25 of them happily." He was very candid about the fact that the first 10 years of his marriage were not happy. I asked him, Why? Because at the beginning, he was in it only for himself; for his career, for his expectations, to fulfill only what he wanted out of the marriage. He came into it with a very selfish view of marriage, and it was not until he learned the true meaning of the Cross that they were able to turn their marriage around and live happily. Over time, he learned humility, mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, self-giving, all of which can be learned from the Cross.

And that is why marriage is such a blessing from God, because as St. Paul says, “it is a great foreshadowing, referring to Christ and the church.” Because we are members of his body, Christ treats us as a husband would a spouse – he nourishes us and takes care of us, wanting only what is best for us, so that we might be holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle. St. Peter asked in today’s Gospel, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When we are struggling with the various problems that confront married couples and families in today’s world, remember that we need only turn to Christ and his Cross, and then we can be confident that we are on the way to that eternal union in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rest and Peace


Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton, GA

After their first mission of evangelization, the Apostles returned to Jesus and he saw that they were tired, so he invited them to “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” What was Jesus looking for? Rest and peace – physical and spiritual. This rest and peace echoes the Seventh Day, when God rested from his labors – the creation of the universe and mankind in his own image and likeness. So this rest and peace signifies the eternal rest we all long for in heaven.

What was the crowd looking for? Also rest and peace. Why were they lacking in rest and peace? Not only because they were tired from the long run to beat Jesus and his Apostles where they were going, but also because they were tired and troubled from the burdens of the world, a spiritual fatigue. They ran those ten miles because they were looking for something that the world couldn't give them: an interior peace, tranquility, and serenity.

This longing is written on the human heart. All the desires of the human heart can only be satisfied in heaven, but we don't know how to get there. He had to teach them because the people could not find peace. Why couldn't the people reach this peace? Because they were looking to the world to satisfy this longing. As with the people of Jesus' time, so also today: we look for the world to satisfy this desire written in our heart. And concretely, this takes many forms today: Alcohol and drugs. Gluttony and shopping. Gambling and risk taking. Fantasy and violence. Sex and porn. These actions take a good and misuse them or use them inappropriately. All in a search for peace, which only comes temporarily.

The devil is right there to encourage us. After we engage in these things, we find that they do not satisfy, and usually we feel nauseous, miserable, or disgusted. The devil tells us what to do next time - increase the quantity and potency - which only leads to addictions, broken relationships, and self-destruction.

The devil promises paradise, but he delivers something else: emptiness, self-loathing, bitterness, alienation from others and from God. By offering substitutes for true peace, he promises us heaven, but ultimately separates us from God. That is the definition of hell, being apart from God.

So, “When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” In today's Gospel people come to Jesus hungry and tired. He doesn't offer a quick fix. Instead, he begins to teach.

What does he teach them?  We see it summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. He begins with the Beatitudes and then gives us a Catechesis on the Ten Commandments. These teachings shows us the attitudes and manner of living that lead to true fulfillment.

Satan uses things that are good in themselves - food, drink, sex in the context of a loving marriage, enjoyment, relaxation, even self-esteem - and he perverts them by misusing them or using them disproportionately. All these things are a foretaste of heaven when used as God intended. But the devil tells us that this is all we need, not what they signify. He takes our desire for heaven and twists it to separate us from God.

The philosopher Josef Pieper puts it this way (Schall, p. 146): “Man as he is constituted, endowed as he is for a thirst for happiness, cannot have his thirst quenched in the finite realm; and if he thinks or behaves as if that were possible, he is misunderstanding himself, he is acting contrary to his own nature. The whole world would not suffice this ‘nature’ of man. If the whole world were given to him, he would have to say, and would say: it is too little.”

Yes, our desires can only be fulfilled by the transcendent God. But St. Thomas Aquinas adds something interesting. In heaven, he says, “the blessed will be given more than they ever wanted or hoped for.” Basically, he is saying that even though we may see our human desires as vast and great, in fact, they are not great enough, and indeed they are nothing when compared to the infinite God. And St. Paul would anticipate this when he said, “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

Fr. James Schall puts it this way, “God exceeds all our other pleasures not by denying our other pleasures exist, but by maintaining that God is more delightful than even these.”

Now, Jesus doesn't only teach. He also equips us to live his teachings. Through the sacraments, he offers us forgiveness, renewal, and strength for the journey. He offers us an experience of heaven right now. And for all the longings of our heart, we find them in Jesus, who as Saint Paul says, “is our peace”.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

God Particle or God Person?

Homily 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 2012
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr, pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton GA

This week, we've heard a lot in the news about the so-called “God-particle”. The discovery of the Higgs bosun particle helps physicists understand where mass comes from. While the media always likes to hype these things, it certainly is a great contribution to our understanding of the universe. It does not have anything to do, however, with the existence of God. Originally it was to be called the "taking the name of the Lord in vain" particle (*cough*), because the scientists looking for it were frustrated that it was so difficult to pin down, but they shortened it to “God particle” and the name stuck.

But at times like this it is useful to remind ourselves about faith and science. The catechism says, (159) “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.” “Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.


So it should not matter whether a scientist is atheist or believer; the only thing that matters is that he or she is a good scientist, and in doing good science is at the service of all mankind.

So then, how to we understand faith? In today's Gospel, we read that Jesus was “not able to perform any mighty deed” because “he was amazed at their lack of faith.” Is this an example where the Lord, for whom all things are possible, was unable to work a miracle? Is he bound by faith, that he cannot perform a miracle without faith?

In a certain sense, yes. For while God is all-powerful, and nothing is impossible to him, as the catechism says (160) "To be human, “man’s response to God by faith must be free... therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act.”

So God does not force faith upon us, nor does he ask us to abandon our reason and have what many call “blind faith” (as a pejorative) . (156) The assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind.” One can come to an understanding that there is a God Creator through the use of reason, many such proofs exist. But, (156) What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.” We reach the logical conclusion that if such a God exists, we have to deal with the consequences of that reality, namely that such a creator must be all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful.

The miracles of Jesus, that everyone knew about in today's Gospel, were invitations to faith in him.  As the Catechism says (156), So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.”; they are “motives of credibility”... which help us come to believe in him.

This brings us to the most important question. In what do we put our faith? The object of faith is a person: not ideas or ideas about God, or philosophies or scientific theories, but a person. On your wedding day, you don't say “I do” to the idea of marriage, you say “I do” to a person. The catechism speaks of it in terms of relationships. (154) Even in human relations it is not contrary to our dignity to believe what other persons tell us about themselves and their intentions or to trust their promises (for example, when a man and a woman marry) to share a communion of life with one another. If this is so, still less is it contrary to our dignity to “yield by faith the full submission of... intellect and will to God who reveals,” and to share in an interior communion with him.

So, in saying “I do” to faith, you are placing your full hope and confidence in God in all things, and this is done freely. (150) Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. God has made this possible by becoming one of us. So that we can see, touch, hear, and believe. (151) The Lord himself said to his disciples: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” And through our faith in Him, (152) It is the Holy Spirit who reveals to men who Jesus is. This relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is continually deepened and renewed as are all relationships.

How do we come about this faith? (153) Faith is a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him. (154) Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. So it is a gift, but it requires a response, cooperation.

What are the characteristics of faith?

First, (157) Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie... [Saint John Henry Newman] “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

Second, (158) “Faith seeks understanding”: it is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith and to understand better what He has revealed; a more penetrating knowledge will in turn call forth a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love... In the words of St. Augustine, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.”

Third, faith is necessary for salvation. (161) Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Believing that God exists, through reason and faith, means nothing if we don't also believe in what he has revealed to us: that humanity is broken through sin and needs a Savior, and (John 3:16) “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Fourth, perseverance in faith is not to be taken for granted. (162) Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. Doing as Saint Paul says (Phil 2:12), “working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Finally, faith is the foretaste of eternal life: (163) Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below. Then we shall see God “face to face,” “as he is.” So faith is already the beginning of eternal life.

For Christians, it's not about the discovery of the “God particle”, it's about the discovery of the “God person”. Finding him in faith leads us not only to the meaning of life and the universe, but to the fullness of life in heaven.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Judgment Seat of Christ

Homily 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Fr. Paul Williams, pastor, Saint Joseph's Catholic Church, Dalton, Georgia

At the Basilica National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Mosaic is of Christ in Majesty, an image of Christ seated in Judgment, in all his power and glory. The Mosaic, for lack of a better term, is not “soft”. Jesus is depicted with a strong, youthful face, with a solemn, almost stern gaze. One brow is arched, stern and severe, the other more relaxed and serene - both justice and mercy are present. His arms are spread, showing his hands, not in the welcoming gesture of the Gentle Shepherd we are accustomed to, but focusing us on his wounds. It's as if he is saying, “Behold the wounds by which I conquered sin and death.” The inscription above the image says: “Christ reigns, Christ Rules. Eternal Victor, Eternal King His kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom that shall not be taken away.”

Saint Paul says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” This image of the judgment seat of Christ throughout history has inspired, in a sense, a righteous fear of what that meeting will be like.

With this image of Christ in mind, we recall that, as he said, Jesus came to fulfill the commandments, not abolish them. He says, “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” This is a very serious matter.

As I have frequently pointed out, the commandments are worded negatively, “Thou shall not...” because everyone can NOT do something. But Jesus' new commandment is positive: “Love one another as I have loved you.” When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, will you bring him a list of things you DID NOT DO? Or will you bring him a list of things you DID?

The book of Sirach says (7:36) : “In everything you do, remember your last end, and you will never sin.” Imagine yourself at your last end, before the “judgment seat of Christ”. What do you bring him? What have you done, good or evil? If we're honest, we have to start first with the things we did do, that we knew to be sinful.

Saint Paul and gives us a list to meditate on, where he CCC 1852: contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” Before the judgment seat of Christ, Sins will be evaluated by their gravity, mortal or venial.

Mortal sins are like turning your back on God, preferring the world and sin to Him. Venial sins are like harming the relationship with one you love: you're still in love, but you've got some work to do. Mortal sins require full knowledge and consent, and their grave matter can be seen in the Ten Commandments: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”

So in Saint Paul's list, many of those sins can be mortal, inasmuch as they pertain to the Ten Commandments. But how often do we think of their venial aspect? Saint Augustine explains: CCC 1863: “While we are in the flesh, we cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession....”

It is a good Christian practice to examine our lives in light of our Last End and our appearance before “the judgment seat of Christ.” When we appear before him, will we offer him our petty resentments, anger at perceived slights over small things? The so-called “white lies”, the stories told behind a friend's back, the slanders against a supposed enemy? The “off-color” jokes shared or enjoyed, the lustful glances or thoughts? The vain things we are attached to, the petty envies and jealousies?

We fall into sin over so many little things and too often try to justify them: he hurt me, I was offended, she was rude to me, he disrespected me, it was just a glance, I didn't mean any harm, they deserved it, I don't owe them anything. I have to imagine sometimes that the Lord is sitting on his judgment seat, with that brow of his arched, saying to us, “Really?”, when we bring to him all our rationalizations and excuses for sin.

The catechism says, CCC 1853: “The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: 'For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.' But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds.”

And here's the good news. At our meeting with Christ at his judgment seat, he will take the time necessary to work us through our sins, yes, to show where we need to be purified. But he would much rather spend time with you showing you the goodness he planted in your heart, and how you pleased him, perhaps without knowing it. As Saint Paul says today, “we aspire to please him”.

If Christ's new commandment is to “Love one another as I have loved you”, then we can discover this goodness by asking ourselves “how have we been like Christ?” This love of Christ is found in self-giving. And we should fill our lives with such acts, whether large or small acts of love.

When we appear before him, we also bring to him those ways we have allowed him to work through us: A word of encouragement for someone who is struggling, comfort for the lonely, depressed, or sick; wrongs born patiently and quickly forgiven; going the extra mile, generosity with our time and goods; reaching out to the marginalized and excluded; quiet acts of almsgiving, prayer and fasting; courageous and simple witness to the faith; the fruits of the Spirit evident in our lives, “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.”

These acts of love modeled on the self-giving of Christ on the Cross are the mustard seeds in our lives which, through God's grace, grow to bring great comfort to His people.

While through faith, we need not fear the judgment seat of Christ, in faith, we should always keep it in mind, so that we may not sin and may one day enjoy the fruits of eternal life.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

You Might Be Happy: Reflections on the Priesthood

On my 17th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood, I came across this sermon from 1995, eight weeks after I was ordained. I was asked to preach on "Call by Name" Sunday, a vocations program at my home parish, Saint Andrew's in Roswell, Georgia.

While I have grown wiser and perhaps more concise (3000 words!) over the years, this sermon still reflects my feelings about the priesthood and the wonderful years the Lord has given me. It tells a bit of my story and asks all of us to reflect on our own vocations.


Fr. Paul Williams, pastor, Saint Joseph's, Dalton, Georgia, March 4th, 2012

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Homily, 3rd Sunday Easter, C (St Andrew, Call by Name, 4/28-29/1995)

This past week has been for me a time of “last things”, as I have finally finished my seminary studies. My last paper ever. My last class, ever. My last exam, ever. The last time I would gather with brother seminarians for 7am Mass and community evening prayer. My last night in a 10-foot by 12-foot room in the seminary. Indeed, probably the last time I’ll see some of the finest men I’ve ever known - as we all go off to different parts of the world to begin our ministry as priests.

As each of these last things came to pass, I found myself reflecting on what it was like when I first got to the seminary, four years ago. And as Father Reynolds has asked me to preach these Masses for the “Call by Name” vocations program, I thought I would share with you some of my reflections. And while I will speak mostly about the priesthood, let me emphasize from the start that God calls all of us in a special way to serve him, whether it be in the priesthood, religious life as a sister or nun, or in marriage or the single life.

When I first got to the seminary at the beginning of orientation weekend, I had everything I thought I needed packed into the back of my truck - books, clothes, CD-player, computer. I pulled up to the seminary, and immediately, a dozen upper classmen greeted me, shuffled me into the reception room, and proceeded to unpack my truck and take all my stuff up 4 flights of steps to my new room (they were so thorough that I later found my jumper cables in the room). Well, I thought this was great and thanked them, and they just smiled at me. You see, it turns out they had an ulterior motive - just in case I started having second thoughts during the weekend, they wanted to make it harder for me to change my mind (4 flights of steps are a great deterrence to hasty decisions).

And that first weekend was pretty challenging. After a relaxing night where I got acquainted with my new roommate from the Virgin Islands, that morning we were told to put on our clerics and report to the Grotto for Mass and orientation. So, I dutifully got up, donned my clerics, looked at myself in the mirror - wearing clerics for the first time (Roman collar and everything)- and thought to myself, “my God, what am I doing here?” Then I went up to the Grotto, and looked around at that Holy place and thought, “my God, what am I doing here?” Then I looked around at my fellow classmates from all over the country, men of every description you could imagine, and thought, “my God, what am I doing here?”

Then the priest, Fr. Manochio, perhaps the holiest priest I have ever seen or known, begins the Mass, and when he gets to the homily, the first thing he says is, “I bet you’re probably sitting there asking yourself, my God, what am I doing here?” And the funny thing about it was that as I looked around, my classmates were nodding their heads with wide eyes.

What was I doing there? Bottom line: God called and I answered. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. Those of you who may have seen the coverage of my ordination in the Georgia Bulletin may remember the picture of me blessing a family. Well, they are wonderful dear people that I know from Carrollton, and I saw them again on Holy Thursday. Their youngest son is David, 2-1/2 years old, and after Mass, his mom was holding him and I went up to him and said, “So, David, did you have a good time tonight?” [Nods head yes] “So, are you going to be a priest someday?” [Deliberately shakes head - side to side] So, I told his mom that this was a sure sign he was going to be a priest, because that was me when the Lord first called - no way [shaking head].

Like Jeremiah who said to the Lord, “I am too young”, or Isaiah who looked up to the Holy of Holies and said, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips”, or Jacob who wrestled with the angel - like all whom God calls, I wrestled with that call, tried to run from it, tried to reason my way out of it, tried to pretend it didn’t happen. I gave the Lord all sorts of excuses: I wanted to continue my career - I was a scientist, not a priest; I wanted to get married, have children, buy a house in the suburbs and spend my weekends watching football and arguing with my son about who’s turn it was to mow the lawn (what goes around comes around). I didn’t ask for much - just what every other young man my age wants out of life. But you know what? The Lord handled each of my objections - one by one - and he answered each of my questions, except one, which I had to answer myself - would I trust him?

And that’s why I entered the seminary. You see, as I was considering the priesthood, there was a time in my life where I was exactly where I wanted to be: I lived in Florida an hour from the beach, I had a good job with great prospects for the future, and at my side at daily Mass one morning, there was a lovely young lady who had become a good friend. She knew I was thinking about the priesthood, and we had decided together that we would go to Mass that day and ask the Lord for a blueprint - whatever he willed for our lives, we would do, if only he would bother telling us what it was. Well, I got to Mass, got down on my knees, and was about to ask the Lord for that blueprint when suddenly something else came to me, “Paul, don’t pray for a blueprint. Pray for trust instead.”

That’s why I can identify so much with Peter in today’s Gospel. The Lord calls Peter by name, “Simon, son of John”, and he asks, “Do you love me?” and the Lord had called me by name and asked me the same question. I replied like Peter, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you”, but I qualified it, “you see, I’m doing rather nicely in my career, and I promise I’ll always dedicate my work to you.” But the Lord calls us by name and asks again, “Do you love me?” “Why yes, Lord, you know that I love you - if you send me that wife I asked for, I promise to be a good husband and father.” I continued to place qualifications and conditions on my response. And still, he calls us by name a final time and asks, “Do you love me more than these - more than your career, more than your dreams?” And I can almost hear the desperation in Peter’s voice, because I felt it in my own call, “Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you - that I’d do whatever you tell me - but is this really what you want me to do?” And the Lord responds again with the call to serve, “Tend my sheep.” He was saying to me, “I have a plan for you, trust me.”

Well, of the more than 300 men I have known in the last four years who have entered the seminary to pursue a vocation to the priesthood, all have experienced similar calls and similar struggles. And there are two objections to entering the priesthood that I see most frequently.

The first objection is a feeling of unworthiness from within and discouragement from without. How many of us look at ourselves, see our weaknesses and failings and say, “I’m not worthy, I’m too weak and too sinful, there’s no way I can do that.” And I have only one answer to that objection: of course you can’t! If any of us pretends that the work is ours and not the Lord’s, then our work has failed before it has begun. As Jesus said, "For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible." I don’t care what your vocation is - priesthood, religious life, marriage, single life - as Ps. 127 says, “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor.” My vocation to the priesthood is not about me, it is about Jesus Christ. When John had his vision of Revelation, what did he see? Thousands and tens of thousands around the throne, not sitting around congratulating themselves on getting into heaven, but all crying out, “To the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!” This is about Jesus Christ, not us. As Ps. 115 says, “Non nobis Nomine Domine” - “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory.”

And to anyone who would feel discouraged because of unworthiness, just look again to Peter, who would look at the Lord and say, “depart from me, for I am a sinful man” and would even deny him three times as he was being carried off to Calvary. This same man would be given charge over the young church - the Rock on which the Lord would build.

And very often, I see men and women discouraged from pursuing a vocation because of discouragement from without. This takes many forms: overt and subtle. Overt in the frequent attacks we see on the Church and the priesthood in Hollywood and the like, the jokes told about nuns who used to teach us, and even the scandals given by a few priests themselves. Subtle discouragement happens when we view a vocation as a last resort or escape from the world - how many times have you heard someone jokingly say, “Oh, I guess I’ll go join a convent or a monastery”? I know a young priest who wasn’t at his parish two weeks before the schoolgirls took to calling him “Father what-a-waste.” If we don’t view a vocation to the priesthood or religious life as a worthy calling and if we don’t defend it and encourage it in our children, then why are we surprised when our young people do not pursue it?

I know of men in the seminary who have known they were going to be priests since they were 9 years old. I know of a young girl today, 7 years old, who’s been telling her mom since she was 5 that she wants to be a nun. And you know, she just might someday. But I worry that as she grows older, others will place doubts, discourage her, or poke fun at her. Now, if she changes her mind sometime during the next 14 or so years, wonderful. Let her go wherever the Lord calls. But let her change her own mind - none of us has the right to change it for her.

The second objection that I hear most often to entering priesthood or religious life is perhaps the biggest hang-up in our society today. I was driving back to the seminary one week after my ordination (Lord knows it was like being told I had to go back to purgatory after spending a week in heaven...), and since I was in no hurry to get back, I stopped at a Holiday Inn to divide up the trip. Well, I checked in, and the clerk asked me if I was eligible for any discounts. (Was I a member of the AARP or something like that?) Well, on a hunch, I said, “well, I’m a priest, does that help?” Well, you would have thought I’d hit him upside the head, because he did the classic double take... he looked at me with his eyes wide, then he went back to his work, he looked at me again, tried to look busy, and then he started babbling, “Wow, you’re really a priest? Like, a Catholic priest? You’re not kidding, are you? Wow, like that’s great. Wow.” And then he just came right out and said it, “You mean, like, you’re not going to have sex for the rest of your life?” I just had to laugh, but I was glad he asked the question, because it was an honest question and probably what I hear most often. I did my best to give him the two-minute explanation about the call to priesthood and celibacy, (but I didn’t get a discount).

So, celibacy. What is celibacy? The young man behind the counter thought it was a renunciation of sex. He was wrong. It is a simple promise not to marry. And to be perfectly clear about what I am saying, the Church teaches, the scriptures teach, and Jesus himself teaches that sexuality is reserved for marriage, that all Christians are called to be chaste: those who are not married must refrain completely, and those who are, must treat it with dignity, respect and fidelity, because not only is it an expression of total love for one another, but when open to new life, as it should be, the married couple co-creates with God a new human life, a child with an immortal soul, destined to eternal life.

Obviously, that is an amazing and wonderful thing, and we are right to desire it and seek it - to share your entire life with the one you love, to give yourself completely to someone because they are worth loving, and then to have as a result of your union, the fruit of your love - a child. It is a precious gift we have in marriage, and if it were not so precious, then the gift of celibacy would be meaningless.

Why would a young man or young woman want to give up something so beautiful? Well, the answer is real simple: the call of the Lord who said to his disciples, “some have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."

You see, there’s really no great difference between marriage and celibacy. When I first arrived at the seminary, we were told from the very beginning that if we did not have the qualities that would make us a good family man, a good husband, a good father, then we did not have the qualities necessary to be a priest. The difference is this: the husband’s love for his wife is exclusive, not in the negative sense, but in the sense that he has promised to devote himself entirely to her and to her alone, and to the care of their children, for the rest of his life. For the celibate, our love must be non-exclusive, in that we must treat everyone we meet as a mother, daughter, sister, father, son, or brother. In a very real sense, as a celibate, all of God’s people are my family. Marriage and celibacy are not opposed - one is not higher or greater than the other - they are complimentary, and each serves its unique purpose in building up the kingdom of God. For the married person, the promise made to the Israelites holds true, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord... loving him, and walking in his ways... you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you...” And for the celibate, Jesus makes this promise, “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”

Well, as I conclude, I realize that probably 90% of you are thinking, “this doesn’t apply to me - I don’t have a religious vocation; I’m married or I already know what the Lord has planned for me.” And that is wonderful, especially for those of you who have truly discovered your vocation and live it faithfully. But let me tell you this: this does apply to you, all of you. If you are elderly, pray for vocations. If you are married, encourage vocations in your children. If you are single, be open, seek God’s will in your life, and encourage others who may be thinking about a vocation. If you are a young person, start praying now - today.

My ordination 8 weeks ago was probably the happiest day of my life, as you can imagine. People have asked me how it felt, and I can only say this: I felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I no longer said, “My God, what am I doing here”, but instead, “Thank you Jesus for bringing me here.” Well, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t hold it in, and as we processed out at the end of the ordination Mass, I had a big grin on my face. I probably looked pretty silly, but the 7 year old girl I told you about, the one who wants to be a nun, saw me and leaned up to her mom to say, “Mom, he’s smiling” as if she weren’t expecting it. Well, I’ll end with this: if any of you are considering a vocation to serve the Lord in whatever way, especially the priesthood or religious life, then I must warn you - you run one great risk, and that is this: you might be happy.