Homily for the 22nd Sunday: Dying to Live

Via http://www.gerhardy.id.au/pent11_11.html
Via http://www.gerhardy.id.au/pent11_11.html

By Sara Knutson

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” says Jesus in today’s gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously put it another way: “When Christ calls a man, he bid him come and die.”

It’s a sobering thought: our Gospel calls us to death in order to live, and our greatest temptation is to deny it.

Poor Peter, whose characteristic impulsiveness again gets him in hot water. But before judging him harshly, consider this: Peter by this point had done an enormous amount for Jesus. He had left his livelihood for the Gospel, been absent from his family, preached from town to town without so much as a walking stick.

He didn’t do it all for nothing; Peter saw something compelling in Jesus. As we heard last week, he knew Jesus was someone truly special, the Christ. And like a good Jew he envisioned this Christ as a liberator, a king, someone who would command the respect of Jews and Romans alike and triumphantly bring about a new era of freedom for his people.

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Guest Post: Of John the Baptist and Theological Education


By Sam Sawyer, SJ

Editor’s Note: These are the notes used by Sam Sawyer, SJ for his homily at the mass he celebrated during orientation for the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Without Christ, John the Baptist’s life and death become unintelligible. This is not necessarily a profound observation — all I’m really trying to point out is that calling John the greatest of those born of women, calling him a prophet, and calling him a martyr for truth and justice, all depend on reading his life through the prism of the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. And indeed that is how we read John, as the precursor of Christ in life as in death, in proclamation of the coming kingdom and in martyr’s witness to its cost.

I would like to suggest two points of reflection for us today, about what we may learn for our own discipleship by reading our lives in light of John’s life, this life that is wholly interpreted by and unintelligible without Christ. The first point comes from the intersection of the gospel and current events; the second from the intersection of the first reading and our being here today at orientation for the STM.

At the intersection of the gospel and current events: I don’t know if I have ever really considered what the beheading of John the Baptist must have been like; I think the actual reality, for me, was often whitewashed by the word “martyrdom,” or by the fact that it was simply part of a larger narrative from which we quickly moved on. The past few weeks, however, have made that kind of ignorance of beheading at least temporarily impossible. We’ve all been exposed, if not to the images, then to the description of the images of James Foley being beheaded by ISIS terrorists. And while I don’t want to enter any debate about whether or not James Foley as a man of faith ought also to be considered a martyr, his death has made me take a second look at what we call the passion of John the Baptist. Put simply, this is not a noble death, either in its physical details or in its context. Foley was murdered by terrorists bent on hate whose ideology distorts and defaces their claim to faith in the God of Abraham. John the Baptist was murdered by a two-bit vassal king afraid of his own wife and enthralled with a dancing girl. Not a heroic death, not on its own. And even in the Gospels, it does not by itself achieve anything, except perhaps to show Jesus, in John’s last prophecy, what the proclamation of the kingdom would ultimately demand of him. This death can only be celebrated — as indeed we do celebrate it today and in this Mass — when it is incorporated and redeemed in the death and resurrection of Christ. And while John’s example, and Jesus’, call us to struggle for truth and justice in the world, they call us equally to a profound dependence on God. Truth and justice can be put to death by the powers of the world, and when they are, only God can raise them up again, which is the only way they can ever be fully realized.

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The Best Thing We’ve Read All Month: Learning from Bodies

I recently subscribed to AmericaCommonweal, and First Things: there’s nothing like attempting to cover all the ecclesial bases.

Last night, an article in First Things stopped me in my tracks.  It’s written Nora Calhoun, who is described as a Catholic convert, mother, and future midwife.

If there’s anything worth reading today, this is it: it combines life, death, struggle and triumph, the travails of extreme youth and old age, and a recognition of our common humanity embedded in our very selves.

The lede:

The baby in my arms lacks the majority of his brain. He was born just fifteen minutes before this moment, and he is likely to die before another fifteen minutes pass. He has taken no first breath and will give no first cry. He cannot see. He cannot hear. He does not feel the warm weight of my hand as it rests on his chest and belly. I quietly weep and pray as the last gift of oxygen his mother’s body gave him dwindles and his rosy newborn glow fades to gray. His soul gently slips out of his body, and his life ends.

Ability is not what makes death significant. At birth this baby had capacities below that of a healthy fetus at ten weeks. Holding his body, living and then dead, proves to me that it doesn’t matter how early the human heart beats, how early it is possible to feel pain, or when the senses develop. No ability or strength confers human status—not being viable or sentient or undamaged or wanted. Being of human descent is enough; you cannot earn or forfeit your humanity. If this baby’s death does not matter, no death matters.

Read it all here: you’ll be glad you did.

Discernment: Hurdling the Obstacles of Life


By Matt Keppel

What happens when your discernment doesn’t go as planned? Have you ever had that happen before? You’ve taken the high road, given God everything that you could, but despite everything you did or said things just have not turned out the way you had hoped. Yeah, I know that story. I have had that anthem echoing in my head. Somewhere along the way things become skewed. You discerned well, but your vision became blurred and your goal now seems farther than ever. Frankly, it hurts, and somewhere deep inside you feel betrayed.

For a long time I spent time discerning my vocation to be a priest. I went to college thinking it would be good to get some life experience, and oh, was it ever. Indeed, I went certain I would succeed, because, well, I had never really failed. But, my heart was lost. I was not sure who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, and I was torn between the ordained life and the lay life. It was a struggle to say least. I failed at a lot of things those years: classes, relationships, friendship. Nothing seemed to go right. Except, in the midst of all the turmoil, and especially having come out on the other side: I know that I was growing.

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Best Thing We’ve Read All Day: +Chaput Edition


Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently published an essay on the Public Discourse website.  It is adapted from a talk, +Chaput gave at a symposium in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

+Chaput is one of the most outspoken members of the American episcopate on matters of church and state.  This essay is worth the read:

In the beginning, Genesis tells us, “the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). Creation begins in chaos. On each day of creation, God brings new things into being and orders them according to a plan. God makes things for a purpose. He creates the world out of love. As Aquinas teaches, God orders the universe as a whole, and that order reflects his glory.

The world works better when it follows God’s design. We see this in our own moral lives. God gives us the law and the beatitudes because they lead us to joy. Jesus shows us the plan God writes into human nature so that, by his help, we can flourish. Too often we think of rules as things that keep us from being happy. But rules, understood as God’s order, are good for us because they show us how to live in a way that shares in his glory. They lead us to embody what God intended human beings to be and do. This is one of the things Scripture means when it says Jesus came “so that we would have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

If creation has a moral order, then how should we think about our human laws?

Read it all here.

What is the Role of God in Mental Illness?


By Claire McGrath

Mental illness has been the subject of much discussion recently due to the tragic loss of Robin Williams. His death reminds us of the devastating effects of mental illness, and the need to address this problem. Mental illness is a result of chemical imbalances and physical abnormalities in the brain, as well as one’s environment, and it affects the mind, body, and spirit—it’s all encompassing. I think the issue begs an important question: what is the role of faith in mental illness? Of course, I don’t have the definitive answer. What I can offer are my thoughts on the subject, based on my own experiences.

In a 2012 survey It’s obvious that mental illness is a major issue in our society. I have experienced my own struggles with anxiety during my time in college, and have received professional treatment. Anxiety is a fairly prevalent issue among college students. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems for college students. When I was struggling the most, I felt very distant from God. I was frustrated with myself, and I believed that if I only worked harder on my relationship with God, then I wouldn’t be in such a dark place. I thought that a lack of faith was part of my problem.

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The One Person Who Can Send You to Hell

There’s one person, or being, who can send you to hell — and it may not be who you think.

This is from 2008, but new to me and as important now and it was then. From Relevant Magazine:

Then at the 3:30 mark (warning, the video contains a bleeped-out explicit word), things take a dramatic turn when the discussion turns to the origins of evil in the Garden of Eden. When Zimbardo suggested that, “Had [God] not created hell, then evil would not exist,” Colbert broke character and snapped, breaking into an impromptu theology lesson. “Evil exists because of the disobedience of Satan. God gave Satan, and the angels, and man free will. Satan used his free will and abused it by not obeying authority. Hell was created by Satan’s disobedience to God, and his purposeful removal from God’s love—which is what hell is. Removing yourself from God’s love. You send yourself to hell. God does not send you there.

Watch the video by following this link.

Homily for the 21st Sunday: How Do We Live as Catholics?

Pietro Perugino

By Brian Niemiec

Who do you say that Jesus is? That was the first question I was ever asked in spiritual direction. This passage – “but who do you say that I am?” – is one that I have never been able to answer sufficiently. Peter had the easy way out, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” If I were the first one to proclaim that, I would have gotten the keys too. Now I say it because people told me. It isn’t a personal revelation, but a formula we have come to use in describing Christ over the centuries. Theologians and devoted women and men of faith alike have spent their whole lives cracking open this question. They have explored the question of humanity and divinity in Christ, wrestled with the great Paschal Mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and professed with faith the same words Peter spoke a millennia ago.

Yet, none of them have ever grasped the whole answer to the question. No one has said who Christ really is, and that is because Christ is more than we can ever possibly say. He is more because God is more. To quote a favorite professor of mine, God is always bigger than our image of him. God always surprises us with something new and different.

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A Parent’s Open Letter to Richard Dawkins


By Katie Morroni

My friend J.D. has composed a beautiful, open letter to Richard Dawkins — and it’s by far the best thing I’ve read in some time.

Before J.D. and his family moved to Nebraska, I babysat for their son Max a few times — so in a very small way, I have experienced the joy J.D. mentions, evident in playing games, reading stories, and rocking their sweet then-baby to sleep. I pray Richard Dawkins accepts this invitation, or otherwise encounters such joy.

I can’t very well put forward this letter that speaks so much to my heart without adding another part of the reason why: My husband and I are preparing to welcome our first child into the world later this year! Just yesterday, I felt an actual kick for the first time, and with that has come a whole new, different awareness of the baby. So know that that’s how I approached this letter, albeit subconsciously at first. And now I can’t help but shudder to think of how our society decides if a child is or is not “worthwhile.”

You’re invited to read this beautiful excerpt below, but I think you’ll want to follow this link to read the full letter.

I have two children with Down syndrome. They’re adopted. Their birth-parents faced the choice to abort them, and didn’t. Instead the children came to live with us. They’re delightful children. They’re beautiful. They’re happy. One is a cancer survivor, twice-over. I found that in the hospital, as she underwent chemotherapy and we suffered through agony and exhaustion, our daughter Pia was more focused on befriending nurses and stealing stethoscopes. They suffer, my children, but in the context of irrepressible joy.

I wonder, if you spent some time with them, whether you’d feel the same way about suffering, about happiness, about personal dignity. I wonder, if you danced with them in the kitchen, whether you’d think abortion was in their best interest. I wonder, if you played games with them, or shared a joke with them, whether you’d find some worth in their existence.

And so, Dr. Dawkins, I’d like to invite you to dinner. Come spend time with my children. Share a meal with them. Before you advocate their deaths, come find out what’s worthwhile in their lives. Find out if the suffering is worth the joy.

Our Anonymous Dead


By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.

My first two months of priesthood have been filled with unexpected joys and challenges: as I said to a confrere yesterday, “Priesthood is exactly what I expected and nothing like what I expected.”

One of the most challenging – and at the same time rewarding – aspects of my ministry has been celebrating funerals.  Death, I’ve concluded, is exactly what Paul of Tarsus said it to be: the last enemy to be destroyed.  Yet, aside from the fundamental theological issues resulting from death (why? why now? punishment? salvation? God’s plan [oh, no, no, no!]), there is a deeper challenge with which I am regularly confronted:

The Anonymous Funeral.

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