Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ

May 24, 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47: 2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28: 16-20

A number of years ago, I was seated in an airport lounge waiting to board a flight that had been delayed for several hours — a flight that I thought would never get off the ground because of weather and mechanical problems.

Judging by the weather I was half hopeful that it would never get off the ground for the simple point of avoiding turbulence. While seated, I was reading a newspaper, when a young woman seated across from me asked me a question, “Are you a priest?”

I glanced up from my newspaper and looked at her face. I saw that her face was filled with intensity but sincerity. My being dressed in a black suit and Roman collar was not sufficient to answer her question about my being a priest. Her question was not seeking a fact as much as it was introducing a conversation in faith that transcended small talk. I answered her question with a simple “yes.” So much of our Christian and sacramental life and ministry begins and ends with the simple answer “yes.” I said “yes” to the woman’s question because I first said, “yes” to Christ’s call at Baptism and Confirmation. I said “yes” to Christ in each of my ordinations, as have other bishops, priests, and deacons. Husbands and wives have said, “yes” to Him through their wedding vows spoken to each other. The answer “yes” marks us as followers of Jesus and distinguishes us from being simply admirers of Jesus. At a priest’s ordination, his “yes” is preceded by responding “present” when called by name.

The woman’s next question surprised me, “Do you believe in an afterlife?” I paused for a moment. I thought reflexively to myself, “Why would she ask that question? Isn’t it obvious by the way I am dressed?” Then I thought further as I listened, “she has phrased the question in a peculiar way.” If I were to be completely truthful, I would have to answer that question by saying, “No, I don’t believe in an afterlife, I believe in eternal life.” Trying to invite more conversation and evangelization, I answered her by stating, “Yes, I believe in eternal life.”

We are often asked about the “afterlife” by the voices of the culture of today, but we Catholics do not believe in an afterlife. We believe in eternal life. Eternal life is Christ Himself, who said, “yes” to the Father’s will. Eternal life is our “yes” enveloped in the here and now of Communion with God. The term “afterlife” points to the unknown of the future. It is contained in the question of the young woman and in the limits of our culture today. It asks, “What does the future hold?” The communion of eternal life reveals to us intimately “it is God who holds the future.”

As the theologian Joseph Ratzinger once observed, “Present and eternity are not like present and future, located side by side and separated; rather, they are interwoven.” This is even more beautifully stated by Saint Therese of Lisieux, “I do not well see what more I shall have in Heaven than now. I shall see the good God, it is true; but as to being with Him, I am wholly with Him already upon earth.”

The Eucharist is the means instituted by Christ for us to be with Him now. It is the foretaste of eternal life. The gift of the Holy Spirit draws us into the disposition to live eternal life, the life of a saint, in the here and now, away from the mediocrity and complacency of sin.

When we detach the gift of eternal life from Christ and our communion with Him through sin and selfishness, we begin to consider the concept of an afterlife as a void into which we stare with confusion and fear as the disciples stared at the sky in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. When that happens, we become either paralyzed by fear or puffed up by presumption. The gifts of faith, hope, and charity given through the Holy Spirit open to us eternal life. The same Holy Spirit then sends us forward with the confidence buoyed by His gifts — confidence, not presumption.

My conversation with the young woman did not answer her questions concerning the specific qualities of an afterlife, but that is not important. My conversation invited her to consider the path of eternal life that begins and ends with Jesus Christ in the here and now, the path of authentic love.
It is this strong confidence that the “men in white” summon the disciples to live in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles when they say, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” The Catholic’s mission and responsibility are not to gaze into the world of the abstract and to ignore the concrete. We are baptized to look into the faces of those who suffer real problems and are set adrift on the sea of meaninglessness and to have an answer for them. We are baptized and confirmed to teach the Gospel as Christ intended it to be taught. As Saint Thomas Aquinas describes the ministry of teaching, “The teacher looks not only at the truth of things; at the same time, he looks at the faces of living men and women who desire to know this truth. Love of truth and love of people — only the two together constitute a teacher.” I would add that they very much constitute the life of the Christian who is baptized to evangelize.

Eternal life begins here and now in the selflessness of love and comes to its culmination in the beatitude of heaven. We pray for those who have died, and we pray to the saints in heaven through the promise of eternal life. As Pope Benedict XVI once said, “Heaven: this word Heaven does not indicate a place above the stars but something far more daring and sublime: it indicates Christ himself, the divine Person who welcomes humanity fully and forever, the One in whom God and man are inseparably united forever. Man’s being in God, this is Heaven. And we draw close to Heaven, indeed, we enter Heaven to the extent that we draw close to Jesus and enter into communion with him. For this reason, today’s Solemnity of the Ascension invites us to be in profound communion with the dead and Risen Jesus, invisibly present in the life of each one of us.”

We read in the Gospel just proclaimed, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” These words reveal to us the significance of the Solemnity of the Ascension that we celebrate today. They are words of promise and fulfillment — promise and fulfillment that prompt confidence within us in place of the meaninglessness of sin.

The commissioning by Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit reveal that Christ’s Ascension is not His abandonment of His disciples or of His Church. It is not an event for sadness caused by the absence of a dear friend. The period between the Ascension and Pentecost is a threshold that prepares us for entry into the Kingdom of God that is already here and yet to be realized. It is eternal. Jesus Christ is always present; He is present to us in this way that is made easier for us to understand by His Ascension where our humanity in Christ is embraced in eternal and Divine power and that mandates in justice the grateful embrace of God in response, a response that can only be justly given through the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit that we will celebrate on Pentecost.


Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66: 1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

“If you love me you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you.” Jesus promises to send another Advocate who is the spirit of truth.

The Greek word for truth is “Aletheia.” It more literally means “not forgetting.” This translation carries with it greater objectivity than the verb “to remember” because “not to forget” conveys that the truth is something that is revealed to us; it is something that requires our receptivity but not our control and power. “Not to forget” is different than “to remember.” To remember means that I am the agent who calls to my mind what has occurred in the past and I reassemble it within my mind according to my biases and presuppositions of which I may be unaware. “Not to forget” means that something has occurred or been given to me or told to me and I remain attentive to what has been revealed and told and given — given for safekeeping, that is, not forgetting. This is what obedience entails for the Christian who does what the Lord commands. The Christian does not forget and remains attentive to Christ in love in the present moment. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

Loving obedience requires receptivity and a humble acknowledgement that I am dependent and that I do not forget that God is all powerful and wills not the death of a sinner. Jesus’ point in the Gospel today is that obedience is not constraint and forced compliance. It is not the overpowering domination of the human will by God’s will. The Advocate offers us an attractive, authentic freedom that begins through loving obedience of the truth fully revealed in Christ. The devil, the great accuser and liar, tempts us by telling us that to be free means to forget about God and to do whatever we prefer to do; when we take the devil’s bait, we are compelled down a path of slavery and death. The cruel irony! In rejecting the true freedom, which is obedience, we freely choose to enslave ourselves to death.

Jesus promises to send another Advocate: the Holy Spirit. An advocate, a paraclete, does for me what I am powerless to do for myself. An advocate speaks on my behalf and in my favor. The Advocate does not speak on my behalf by saying what I want the Advocate to say in support of my own self-interest and preferences; the Advocate does not follow my directions; the Advocate does not let me deny my sinfulness and what God has done for me in Christ’s life, Passion, death, and resurrection.

The Advocate speaks and offers testimony to hope as we read in the first letter of Peter. Hope has as its object God’s power — that He can do anything. The Advocate does not let me forget that I am dependent and require the free gift of grace that is God’s power directing me, guiding me, attracting me, but never forcing me or manipulating me to embrace the good.

Let us not forget that the Greek word for truth is aletheia, its literal meaning is not forgetting. We are assembled here at the altar and banquet table of Christ’s sacrifice to remind each other not to forget that the truth about our salvation does not involve the shortsighted remembering and retelling of a story that is biased towards our current and ephemeral interests and preferences in the face of our fears. When we are assembled for Mass, the Advocate reminds each of us not to forget what Christ has done and continues to do for us.

I conclude gratefully with a story about one of those people through whom God has not let me forget the truth of the grace of dependency in priestly ministry. Some of you might remember him, Father Baltazar Szarka, “Father B,” who served for many years as the pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi parish in Grapevine. He was born and raised in Hungary, entered a Cistercian monastery there, was ordained a priest there, survived the Second World War, and then was assigned to live in France for further theological studies. While in France, the Communists took over Hungary and shut down the monastery and dispersed and imprisoned the monks. His Abbot was able to send word to Father B not to try to return but to find a monastery elsewhere. Providence brought Father B to Texas and to Grapevine where he was assigned temporarily as the pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi parish in 1959 by Bishop Gorman — a temporary assignment in which he served for over 35 years until the mid-1990’s. He was a frequent confessor of mine and of many others. He would consistently give the compassionate penance of praying one Memorare as composed by Saint Bernard. “Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary…” The only human person who has the power to remember instead of simply not forgetting is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the “bearer of the Word” who, through the merits of Christ Her Son, is Immaculate, free of sin, and full of grace. This makes her different than us but not separate from us. Thus, she remembers that God has remembered His promise of mercy, the promises made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children forever.

Father B retired from his pastorate and went to live in the Cistercian monastery in Irving after he began to show signs of dementia and began not to remember things. Many parishioners would still go to the monastery to see Father B and to consult with him about their problems and to seek his pastoral care. He would listen and counsel them to pray the Memorare as composed by St. Bernard, “Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary….”

Father B’s health soon worsened to the point where he could no longer receive appropriate care and attention in the monastery that it was required that he live in a full-time care facility with daily visits from the monks and from his former parishioners. His Abbot later shared with me that when he accompanied Father B to the facility and they entered it, they encountered in the hallway a woman who was suffering from dementia and was calling out for help. Father B turned to the Abbot and asked with confusion, “what is this place?” The Abbot told him that it was his new priestly assignment. With that being said, Father B in obedience went up to the woman and encouraged her not to be afraid and began to pray the Memorare as composed by St. Bernard, “Remember, Oh Most Gracious Virgin Mary…” The Greek word for truth is aletheia. It means not forgetting.

As Catholics, we have nothing to boast in but our weakness. It is in that weakness that we receive the grace of not forgetting that our baptismal call is a gift to live at the hand of God — who is not so much the Truth to which we grab and cling to as much as the Truth that holds us and forms us as instruments who witness to hope. God is the truth that does not forget us instead of the truth that we remember.

Aletheia. Not forgetting. This means we cannot hide. We cannot hide from the awful fact and summons of the Cross. It means that we cannot hide from the glory and the promise and the summons of the Resurrection. It also means that we are powerless to save ourselves, and that in our powerlessness we require the Advocate to do so on our behalf that we might explain the reason for our hope in the fullness of the truth revealed by Christ.


Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 10, 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33: 1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

The fifth Sunday of Easter this year coincides with Mother’s Day in our nation. I would like to begin by remembering all our mothers who are here with us today, either physically present or present through the Communion of Saints, and also alive in our hearts and memories. Mothers particularly have the ability and the vocation to remind their children of their responsibilities to keep things simple, and most especially to remind their children that they belong to them as sons and daughters and to each other as brothers and sisters.

On January 29, 2014, I received such a reminder from my own mother. As many of you might recall, on that day I was ordained and installed as your bishop with thousands of us gathered and assembled as the local Church of Fort Worth in communion with the universal Church in a liturgy celebrated at the Fort Worth Convention Center. We came to the part of the liturgy near its conclusion where the new bishop is to walk through the gathered assembly offering his blessing as a successor of the Apostles entrusted to the local Church as her bishop. As I began to do that I first went to my own parents, my mother was in a wheelchair because she had been impaired by a brain tumor, she was at a point in her life when she had moments of clarity of mind and other moments when she did not. We had prayed that God would bless her with clarity on that special day. As I bent over to give her a kiss on the cheek, she pulled me in a little closer and said to me, “Don’t let this go to your head.”

When the Church teaches, she teaches as a Mother. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation.55 Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” And in another place the Catechism articulates, “The Church guards the memory of Christ’s words; it is she who from generation to generation hands on the Apostles’ confession of faith. As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith to introduce us to the understanding and the life of faith.”

The Church introduces us to the understanding and the life of faith. This is true for the Church today as it was true for the Church that we see described and assembled in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The Church gathered together with the Apostles in communion with each other and guided by the Holy Spirit recognizes that the all of the widows and orphans — those who are socially vulnerable and poor, those divided by language and culture, Greek speaking and Aramaic-speaking — each and all belong to the Church as Her children. The Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, appoint deacons — including the first martyr, Saint Stephen — for the ministry of care and belonging as brothers and sisters born as children of the Church through Baptism and its gift of the faith. The Apostles did so not to abandon their responsibility to the widows and orphans, but rather to draw them closer into their care.

The Gospel makes clear for us today that, viewed without faith, the crucifixion of Jesus becomes a boulder which blocks us from following Him. Faith enables us to see Him as He really is, not a boulder, but the stone rejected by the leaders and powerful of His day, who has become the cornerstone. It is the ministry and life of deacons to gather the widows and orphans who are poor, marginalized, and rejected as stones by the builders of society; it’s the ministry of deacons to assemble them through charity and justice as stones belonging to the Temple not made of human hands and held together by the cornerstone who is Christ. In that sense, the Church as our Mother employs the ministry of deacons to gather and assemble Her children that otherwise would go rejected by the builders of society.

Faith—through the centuries the Church has constantly confessed this one faith, received from the one Lord, transmitted by one Baptism, and grounded in the conviction that all people have only one God and Father. No one comes to faith alone nor by his or her own power. He or she must be born through Baptism and as belonging to the Church, our Mother. This is a very important point that is necessary for our salvation; it is a point which the Church, our Mother, reminds each and all of us called to evangelize within our society. There is much in contemporary society that places an undue premium upon individual self-reliance and material acquisition. We can be led astray by this and allow what Christ has done for us “to go to our head” by living as if our faith is only a private experience that happens to be coincidental to the private experiences of other individuals. This is contrary to the revealed truth that we can only receive the gift of Catholic faith by our being born through Baptism and in communion with Christ and each other as sons and daughters of the Church, our Mother. There is no private faith. There is no private authoritative revelation. We can only receive revelation and faith from Christ by being born of our Mother the Church through the sacrament of Baptism.

In the Gospel reading proclaimed today, Jesus speaks of His preparation of a place for all of us — a home, a mansion with plenty of room for all who have faith. It is where He is going and where we are to follow. Thomas, tempted against faith, asks sincerely but without trust, “How do we know the way?” Thomas is looking for a private path that does not involve trust. Jesus, as clearly as possible directly states that He, Jesus, is the Way. Faith in Jesus is the way. It is the faith that unites us with Him and with each other as brothers and sisters. Perhaps, Thomas’ later reticence to trust is because he is not with the other Apostles when Christ first appears; at that point in time Thomas decided not to belong. The gifts of the Holy Spirit guard your sense of belonging as sons and daughters of the Church, as brothers and sisters to each other.

The Church guards the faith and guards us in the faith because we belong to the Church, our Mother, as Her children. As her children, we are brothers and sisters with each other before any other citizenship, race, color, language group, political affiliation, or association. So when the Church speaks to us on issues that affect all of her children — like the dignity of the unborn, the care of the terminally ill, the integrity of marriage and family life, the integral and natural beauty of human sexuality distinct in man and woman, the common good of our society, and the inclusion and well-being of immigrants and refugees with the integrity of national borders — she reminds us, as our Mother, that we belong to Christ and to each other and that there is no private or elite path to the place of belonging prepared for us in faith by Christ. The Church as our Mother follows the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Cana who told the stewards regarding Jesus, “Do whatever He tells you” — true, wise, and authoritative counsel, as only a mother with the simplicity of faith can offer her children


Life on the Chrism Trail: The Sacraments

Here is my newest video from my Life on the Chrism Trail series. In this video, I address the questions I have received regarding the Sacraments and why, even with our technological advances, it will always be necessary for us to be physically present to obtain them.

View past videos at: https://fwdioc.org/life-on-the-chrism-trail