Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit for the Guidance of the Legal Community “The Red Mass”

Photo by Ben Torres/NTC

September 26, 2019
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 2:1-11
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 15:26-27; 16:12-15

In our Gospel reading this evening Jesus promises to send us an Advocate who will speak on our behalf. The Greek word for this is parakletos. Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit whose Pentecost is spoken of in the first reading for this evening’s liturgy. Parakletos literally means mouthpiece. It is a term that carries legal connotations, a parakletos is a legal advocate who pleads a defendant’s cause — a lawyer. Thus, the Holy Spirit is the Advocate who pleads on our behalf in the divine economy of Christ’s restorative justice.

The Advocate speaks on behalf of the restorative justice merited by Christ for our salvation. This divine justice is measured by His bias in favor of those most wounded and prone to be wounded by sin and its effects. Yet, Christ’s justice is not simply the substitution of one bias with another form of bias whereby those who are oppressed change places with the oppressors and the dominated become the dominators and vice versa. That would be a form of revenge structured by narrative and implemented by a coercive force that simply repeats the cycle of sin. Revenge, like all sin, is incompatible with God’s nature and impossible for God to perform.

The restorative justice merited by Christ is also not the “eye for an eye” sense of justice measured out by the old and provisional covenant established in Sinai between God and the Israelites. The justice of the Mosaic covenant was clearly provisional until the coming of the Messiah who would establish a new and lasting covenant. Saint Paul clearly indicates in his letter to the Galatians that the law of the old covenant and its works cannot save us, but that salvation depends on the promise of God fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

The restorative justice of Christ is the truth fully revealed by Him through His life, His preaching and miracles, His suffering, His death and resurrection, and His ascension into heaven. Jesus Christ is the truth who simultaneously reveals and absolves our sins and who restores a right order that surpasses even the paradise of the Garden of Eden before the fall. “O happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam, that won for us a savior who is Christ, the Lord,” as the Church exults every Easter Vigil. Christ entrusts the completion of this mission of redemption to the Church, each of the baptized who receive the Holy Spirit and carry it out in their daily lives.

This mission of carrying out Christ’s restorative justice entrusted to the Church especially belongs to those who have been given the vocation to serve as lawyers or civic officials in our society. Lawyers have a vocation of advocacy exemplified by the work of the Holy Spirit who never speaks for Himself. The vocation of advocacy of lawyers requires a selfless life ordered by reason and informed by faith. It requires a commitment to the truth in order to guide sound moral judgment. The sound moral judgment of lawyers made in the integrity of every aspect of their personal life guides how they will advocate on behalf of their client. Without a sound commitment to the truth as ascertained by reason and informed by faith, the practice of law and accompanying jurisprudence becomes merely the technically efficient imposition of a coercive narrative in place of a different narrative. Every time this is done, the woven fabric of the common good becomes frayed and tattered, and the weak and the vulnerable are harmed. The moral virtue of fortitude is essential to remain strong in the vocation of advocacy directed to our destiny in the Lord’s Kingdom. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria once said: “With the Holy Spirit within us, ‘it is quite natural for people who have been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become people of great courage.’”

In our society, justice is brought about and upheld for the common good through the mitigation of law and the dedicated service of lawyers and civic officials. Yet, the law can only promote justice if it is understood and promulgated as an ordinance of reason and not as a dictate of the imposed and coercive will of the legislator or judge. Law is not simply an act of coercion on the part of the state or of the court; the law is not the mere substitution of one narrative for another narrative; the law is an ordinance of reason and reflects moral judgment. Law can only perform this function if the lawyers and civic officials live according to the order of right reason with ever-developing virtuous character.

When law is enacted as an ordinance of reason, it fosters the right order of justice engendered by the truth in its entirety. On the contrary, when law is enacted or upheld as a coercive force of the will on the part of the legislator or judge it results neither in justice nor freedom but in an uneasy truce balanced precariously by mutual self-interests. As Pope Leo XIII wrote more than 130 years ago in his encyclical Immortale Dei, “the best parent and guardian of liberty amongst human beings is truth.”

Photo by Ben Torres/NTC

The events of Pentecost displayed in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles reveal God’s continued undoing of the effects of sin. The event of Pentecost specifically brings about the undoing of the sinful effects of Babel. Whereas human beings at Babel sought to make themselves like God — establishing their lives according to their own autonomously selfish initiative, behaving as if God did not exist (or if He does exist He doesn’t matter much) — the result being chaos and disorder from the confusion of speech, the fomenting of distrust, the systematizing of discord between and among human beings, and the abuse of power and violent injustice.

At Pentecost, the initiation of the Church’s life, it is the divine initiative of grace that compels the apostles to understand and to speak in the languages of the then-known world. Each nation hears the Gospel preached by the apostles in their own vernacular. The understanding comes through the Advocate and it involves and enables the active and graced response of human beings. It is the fullness of the truth revealed in Christ that transcends languages and cultures. That which humanity has previously inflicted upon itself as part of the chaotic result of the arrogant sin of Babel, the confusion of languages, is now redeemed by Christ’s victory over sin through the activity of the Holy Spirit in animating the Church.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit redeems the sin and punishment of Babel, the confusion of tongues and the ensuing rancorous entropy. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit does not erase the difference in languages by imposing a uniformity of speech or the haughty pretense of a global vision; rather the Advocate of the truth redeems the effects of these differences and enables understanding where before mistrust and confusion existed as the bitter fruits of sinful difference in language. Division is reconciled and communion is fused through the power of the Holy Spirit who universalizes each and all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, to become one People of God without destroying the integral character of local communities or the identity of nations united and joined together by sound borders. Neither justice nor mercy dispense with the moral order nor do they deny good or evil. Faithful members of the Catholic Church, especially lawyers and civic officials blessed with the vocation of advocacy, promote justice not because it’s good strategy or because it serves our presently preferred expediency, we promote justice because that is what is required for us to be converted and configured to the rationally-apprehended truth and goodness of God fully revealed in Jesus Christ, the mystery into which the Advocate draws us.

The cause that the Advocate pleads is the mission of communion of the Church. The defense of the Advocate is offered against the return of the distrust, chaos, and violence of Babel, the work of the Devil — the great accuser. The Holy Spirit is the advocate that will not allow the chaos of Babel to return to human beings through their graced participation and belonging in Christ’s Church as grasped by faith, strengthened in hope, and shared in love.

The same temptations of Babel remain in our fallen, yet redeemed, world of today. There are voices in education, politics, law, and the arts who reassert the arrogant claims of Babel as narratives and programs that dehumanize persons by a systematized pretense that God does not exist or if He does exist, He doesn’t matter much. Such narratives include the redefinition of when human life begins or ends, the ever-undulating fluctuation of gender ideology, and the redefinition of marriage as merely a permissive contract between individuals.

We are gathered here in this Eucharistic assembly to ask the Advocate again that we become a stronger part of the Church’s mission, to forgive and to redeem our sins, and to bring to us order out of chaos. We pray that we be a part of Christ’s plan, not that we subvert His plans into our own. This is not only good news — it is urgent news. We are speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit and in divine providence the Advocate needs and calls advocates. This is the reason that lawyers and civic officials who have received the vocation of advocacy are so especially needed in our society today. The Advocate is generous in the gifts He offers, I urge you to step forward to receive these gifts anew, praying again with open hands that you will be good stewards of what is offered to you by God.


Mass in Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Diocese of Fort Worth

Photo by Juan Guajardo/NTC

Memorial of Pope Saint Pius X
August 21, 2019
Fort Worth Convention Center
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 21-23, 25-27
1st Thessalonians 2:2-8
Matthew 20:1-16

Estamos aquí porque somos llamados por Cristo como miembros de Su Pueblo y cómo trabajadores en Su viña. Hemos a encontrado a Cristo y nos ha llamado. Cristo es El Viñador y la Iglesia es la vid. Somos hijos de la Luz verdadera y brilla en nosotros por Su gracia. El siglo pasado era una época sangrienta a causa de la influencia de idealismo moderno — un actitud del egoísmo y ateísmo. Era un siglo de dos guerras mundiales y genocidio. Era una época de la oscuridad. “Levántate y resplandece, Jerusalén, porque ha llegado tu luz y la gloria del Señor alborea sobre ti. Mira: las tinieblas cubren la tierra y espesa niebla envuelve a los pueblos; pero sobre ti resplandece el Señor” (Isaías 60:1-2).

Why does God give gifts? He doesn’t give them as toys or trophies but as tools for carrying out the work in His vineyard. We in the Diocese of Fort Worth have been blessed throughout these 50 years by Christ’s generosity in granting us the willingness to remain faithful to the light of His truth amid so much darkness in the world and for His generosity we come together to worship and give Him thanks.

Much of the darkness in which His light has shown through our faithfulness is the darkness of incoherence and isolation that were the bitter fruits of the modern world now given way to the stupor of the postmodern world. “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples: But upon you the Lord shines and over you appears his glory” (Isaiah 60:1-2).

On this memorial of Saint Pius X, we are reminded that he served as pope at the start of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in human history and the century most naïvely attached to the unbridled claims of modern and unrealistic concepts. Pope Saint Pius X cared for the people of God, not as a politician or as a diplomat, but as a pastor who sought to restore all things in Christ. He called the Church back into the reality of the mystery of the Eucharist in its real presence of Christ: the Eucharist frequently received with reverence and devotion and offered with simplicity and beauty.

As we come together today, we are confident that we don’t have to sing a new church into being because that work has already been done by Christ. Christ has sought us out to entrust us with the work of His vineyard and we are truly blessed and privileged to have responded to His grace for the flourishing of His Church. The ministry and work in His vineyard are accompanied by the unsurpassable gift of belonging to Him and through Him to His people, in love and communion.

Cuando consideramos la parábola del Evangelio de hoy, podemos pasar por alto fácilmente el hecho de que el personaje que más trabaja en la parábola es el propietario — por implicación, Cristo. En otras palabras, Cristo desea salvarnos más de lo que cualquiera persona quiere salvarse a sí mismo.

When we consider the parable from today’s Gospel, we can easily overlook the fact that the hardest working character in the parable is the landowner — by implication, Christ. In other words, Christ desires to save us more than any of us want to save ourselves. Christ is always at work in our lives to redeem us. The hardest working characters are not those who are first hired and have endured the hot sun, complaining about their pay. They are the loudest of the characters because they have adopted the disposition of someone who is working for God instead of doing God’s work.

This is a distinction that is important for our own self-examination of our vocation in discipleship. When I am “working for God” the initiative is from me in that I have decided what I am going to do for God, and there is an expectation that He will accomplish my plan for His benefit since we’ve implicitly agreed to a contract. The subtle inference is that if God doesn’t carry out His end of the contract to my expectation, I can come to believe that God has cheated me, so I might have to terminate Him and find another god.

When I am doing God’s work, the initiative belongs to God. This is the gift of grace. I am accountable to God on His terms, not my own. God has taken the initiative in entrusting me with His work, not the other way around. He provides the plan and the vision and the necessary tools, some of which I may not have known previously that I received, for the sake of completing His work that includes my own conversion. In so doing His work, my disposition changes to become more like His, more generous and loving.

Esta es una distinción que es importante para nuestro propio examen de nuestra vocación en el discipulado. Cuando estoy trabajando para Dios, la iniciativa es mía, ya que he decidido lo que voy a hacer por Dios y existe la expectativa de que cumplirá mi plan para su beneficio, ya que hemos acordado implícitamente a un contrato. La inferencia sutil es que, si Dios no lleva su parte del contrato, podría tener que rescindirlo y encontrar otro dios.

Cuando estoy haciendo la obra de Dios, la iniciativa le pertenece a Dios. Soy responsable ante Dios en sus términos, no en los míos. Dios ha tomado la iniciativa de confiarme su obra, no al revés. Él proporciona el plan y la visión y las herramientas necesarias, algunas de las cuales no sabía que poseía, para completar Su trabajo que incluye mi propia conversión. Al hacer Su obra, mi disposición cambia para ser más parecida a la Suya — más generosa y amorosa.

Photo by Juan Guajardo/NTC

That which surpasses the payment by the landowner to the workers is the gift of belonging that the landowner bestows upon the workers; they belong to Him and to each other, they belong to the vineyard when previously — before the landowner sought them out — they were purposeless and isolated without belonging.

Christ bestows this gift of belonging, the gift of Communion, upon us through His real presence — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — in the Eucharist that He shares with us. It is not a cheap belonging that is based upon an exchange of services arrived at on a cost/benefit analysis. The fruit of belonging provided to us by Christ through the gift of the Eucharist is rich in accountability and love. The Eucharist is neither a toy nor a trophy. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, “If it’s just a symbol, what’s the point of it?”

El fruto de pertenencia que nos dio Cristo a través del don de la Eucaristía es rico en responsabilidad y amor. Hay las gracias de las expectativas que acompañan la pertenencia a la Iglesia, transformada a través de nuestra participación en la Eucaristía.

There are the graces of expectations that accompany our belonging in the Church whereby we are transformed through our participation in the Eucharist. For us to receive the presence of Christ in the Eucharist we should be disposed to receive Him in a state of Grace, totally reliant on His love and aware of our own unworthiness. This accountability is most clearly manifested in what the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to as the Sacraments of Service: Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders.

Christ is espoused through the sacrifice of the Eucharist in Holy Communion with His Bride, the Church for whom He died. Husband and wife live as a man and woman in a two-in-one flesh communion — through their consent expressed in their freely exchanged vows of permanence, fidelity, and openness to God’s gift of children. A man and woman are accountable to these promises of married life in love when they make them in a covenantal way in which Christ is intimately involved with His love and mercy. The darkness of the dominant culture would replace this light of accountability and love with the shadows of “the freedom of expression, privacy, and spirituality” without due regard for human nature. Our married couples shine brightly with this light in their commitment to marriage and dedication to family life.

Christ is the priest and victim of His sacrifice on the cross. This is the same sacrifice that is made present in the sacrifice of the Mass. Christ serves as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life in loving sacrifice for His sheep. In that image of Head and Shepherd, and for the sake of the sacrifice of the Eucharist, a priest is ordained — to give his life in service for the sake of the sheep, especially the lost sheep. The lost sheep are those who are sought after and who enter the vineyard last but with identical and generous gifts of belonging to Christ and to others in the joyful vineyard of His Church. Without this sacrifice made in love, the priest runs the risk of becoming a hired hand or even a wolf, purposeless and predatory.

I would like to make my own the following words addressed in a recent letter to all of us priests by Pope Francis, “Without denying or dismissing the harm caused by some of our brothers, it would be unfair not to express our gratitude to all those priests who faithfully and generously spend their lives in the service of others. They embody a spiritual fatherhood capable of weeping with those who weep. Countless priests make of their lives a work of mercy in areas or situations that are often hostile, isolated, or ignored, even at the risk of their lives. I acknowledge and appreciate your courageous and steadfast example; in these times of turbulence, shame, and pain, you demonstrate that you have joyfully put your lives on the line for the sake of the Gospel.” I know this to be true of you not only as your bishop but as a priest of this diocese who has served with you for over 25 years.

Sin la centralidad de Cristo, que Cristo mismo ofrece a través de la Eucaristía — Cristo que es completamente divino y completamente humano — nuestro enfoque del matrimonio y nuestro enfoque de las órdenes sagradas pueden oscurecerse por el egocentrismo y el profesionalismo sin pertenecer, sin amor, o responsabilidad.

Our life as the Church, the local church of Fort Worth in communion united with every other local church in communion with the Holy See, requires that we begin and end in prayer. We ask Christ together in prayer for a renewal of our contemplation upon His real presence in the Eucharist and the discernment of His will for us and our part in His plan and not the other way around. We need to stay with Him.

Without prayer and receiving the gift of His real presence or by taking Him for granted — we end up grasping for things in selfishness and in the darkness of entitlement, and instead of belonging to Christ and each other as the Church, we are consumed by our own selfishness. Without our prayer and our gratitude for Christ’s gift of His real presence in the Eucharist, we soon lose our recognition of the reality of human beings. People soon become problems for me to eradicate or they become threats to my false god of autonomy. Neighbors become enemies. Incoherence in reason, anger in the heart, and belligerence in speech soon lead to violence in action. The grace of the Eucharist saves us from such evil.

The Eucharist makes us the Church through Christ’s initiative and His generosity and our grateful response to labor in His vineyard. The Eucharist never is grasped at as an entitlement; it is never owned; the Eucharist freely offered must be graciously received. With Christ the Eucharistic victim, we ourselves are blessed, broken, and shared. Such is life in the vineyard of the Lord, and such is our life as the Church. He requires us to pray that He will send more laborers into His vineyard.We have a responsibility to ask God specifically for vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and the diaconate.

La Eucaristía nunca es captada; La Eucaristía es recibida, ofrecida, sacrificada, quebrantada y compartida. Así es la vida en la viña del Señor, y así es la vida como la Iglesia. Él nos exige que recemos para que envíe más trabajadores a Su viña. Según el proyecto del Quinto Encuentro, sus hijos son los sacerdotes hispanos y vocaciones religiosas de nuestra diócesis. Recen por esto conmigo con confianza y fe.

Cómo escribió el Papa Francisco en Evangelii Gaudium: “Así redescubrimos que Cristo nos quiere tomar como instrumentos para llegar cada vez más cerca a Su pueblo amado. Nos toma de en medio del pueblo y nos envía al pueblo, de tal modo que nuestra identidad no se entiende sin esta pertenencia.”

As Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium, “We realize once more that Christ wants to make use of us to draw closer to His beloved people. He takes us from the midst of His people, and He sends us to His people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity” (EG #268).

Christ continues to give us the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of our identity, our dignity, and our destiny throughout our past, present, and future. This gift of the Eucharist — Christ really present in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — makes all the difference for us to truly be His Church and to flourish in His vineyard for our salvation and for His greater honor and glory.


The Encounter Family Conference

Photo by NTC/Kevin Bartram

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2019
Grapevine, Texas

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

Family life is about conversion. Family life is about conversion within the family. Family life is about conversion of the family. I can remember being taught this lesson about conversion by my Lutheran father.

I was fourteen-years-old and I was a freshman in high school. It was about the middle of October when the weather begins to turn colder. The weather was becoming colder, as was the novelty of high school. It was a cold morning and I remembered that I had not completed an assignment for my first period Latin class. I remembered that I didn’t have the book with me for me to attempt to complete the assignment on the subway should I be lucky enough to find a seat for me to be able to write out the answers. As I thought about the day with increasing dread, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I suspected that I was not well enough to go to school. I got out of bed and went to the kitchen where my father was making coffee and getting ready for the day. I told my father that I didn’t feel well and couldn’t go to school that day. He looked at me, glanced at me diagnostically, and told me directly to sit down.

What happened next, I will always remember, and it is something for which I will always be grateful. My father spoke very directly to me in a conversational tone. “Look,” he explained, “I am not going to brow beat you into going to school. That’s your mother’s department. I am telling you that you help this family by going to school. That’s part of your job to help this family and do your part. Sick days are for when you are feeling sick and you run the risk of becoming sicker by traveling to school or when you are contagious and could spread the flu to other people. Sick days are not given for your convenience to slack off. Decide. Are you sick?” I listened. I relaxed. I nodded. I went to school that day and I never had that conversation again with my father or my mother.

Jeremiah is calling Israel to convert as a group in turning to the Lord to become one people, His people. He is not calling simply for the conversion of each individual. Jeremiah is calling for the conversion of God’s People, composed of different persons who relate to each other as one people made to be God’s People by the Covenant initiated by the one true God — their God. Jeremiah is rejected and resisted because he is faithful to God, the God of His People, and to the truth of the revelation of God’s desires for God’s People. Yet many of the people abandon the covenant and each prefer the easy narrative of the false prophets of comfort and self-identification.

The idolatrous message of the false prophets is a familiar narrative to our ears because it has been spoken throughout salvation history. It is a narrative of compromise and appeasement. It was spoken to the Maccabees, “What’s the big deal over a little ham? It’s just a little ham.” It has been spoken to the martyrs, “What’s the big deal over a little incense placed before the statue of the Emperor? It’s just a little incense.” It is spoken to us today, “What’s the big deal over fluidity of gender and the human right to marry? It’s just their private choice.” It is an easy narrative that is accompanied by hardship and assault upon the human person created as a unity of body and soul in the image and likeness of God, not fabricated by oneself as a ghost in a machine with interchangeable parts. Like Jeremiah before us, we must not capitulate to this seductive narrative; it is only with God’s grace that we won’t do so.

Jeremiah is faithful to the Lord even as he honestly complains to Him about his suffering — even when the Lord doesn’t do what Jeremiah wants Him to do in the way that Jeremiah wants Him to do it. The Lord listens to him patiently and compassionately because the Lord is pleased with him and loves him. Jeremiah is a true prophet. The true prophet, including the prophetic Church, is rejected not because the prophet speaks with the heat of anger but because the prophet speaks God’s desires for His people in the clear light of truth even when God’s desires are not preferable to the autonomy of selfish human beings. The prophet perseveres with God in the ongoing conversation of prayer that involves listening even more than it involves speaking.

Perseverance in prayer is described in our second reading from Hebrews. We are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses who have persevered in running the race before us; they have resisted sin by appeal to God’s mercy and forgiveness. This cloud of witnesses refers to the saints who surround us still and pray with us and for us. They are a sign of hope. Hope requires fortitude. Fortitude involves vulnerability, the willingness to be wounded for the sake of the truth. Without vulnerability there is no fortitude; without fortitude there is no hope. The cross is our only hope for salvation.

In fidelity to our vocations to family life we each are called to the willingness to be wounded for the truth in love and not simply being adherent to yet another concept. The truth for which we are wounded is relational not relativistic. The truth is Jesus Christ, the second person in the relation of the Holy Trinity and in the relation of the Holy Family of Nazareth; He is the Son of Mary and foster Son of Joseph; He is the grandson of Joachim and Anne; He is the cousin of John the Baptist and Elizabeth. The truth is as relational and dynamic as love itself in all its selflessness. The truth is revealed and experienced in the fragile vulnerability of the family —husbands laying down their lives for their wives; wives sacrificing for their husbands; fathers giving of their time for their sons and daughters, mothers giving of themselves for sons and daughters in the formation of a household that is governed in the right order of respect and forgiveness. In this regard, children are not simply beneficiaries of their parents’ good example. They are meant to be stewards of that good example contributing according to their ability to the culture of love being formed in the home that is eventually to be shared with neighbor and society.

This is one of the ways in which the family is a domestic church. The family is not an aggregate of individuals with private interests shared by contract for the time being for the sake of further acquisition of private goods for each individual. The family serves the common good not as a maker of productive individuals for the sake of the workforce but as a community dedicated to love of God and service of their neighbor, most especially the weakest among us. The family has a hierarchy of service established both in nature and in grace through a faithful and permanent marital covenant open to God’s gift of children.

Photo by NTC/Kevin Bartram

It is the selflessness of marital and familial love that saves us from becoming lost in a culture war to overpower the enemy in a brawl of ideologies. Instead, we are called to engage reasonably the battle against the chaos of evil through the strategy of Christian discipleship established in charity and sustained by the gritty stamina of justice and the stable pliancy of mercy. The extreme individualism of today’s culture should not be met with an opposite and volatile extreme of rigid adherence to a code of one size fits all. The only answer is Christ Himself who calls each of us to a different share in His mission that is united only by Christ Himself in His Gospel authentically shared by the Church in His Spirit. We can become lost in the weeds over such subordinate and prudential issues as: family size discerned in accord with natural means, the selection of the appropriate means and method of education and formation of children, and the selection of devotional practices within the home.

The Gospel reading of today reveals that the family exists for Christ’s purposes in nature and in grace, not the other way around. The family itself (as well as its members) requires conversion. Conversion takes time and requires God’s grace and patience. Conversion is the “fire” of which Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel that purifies the wonderful gift of marriage and family life. Without Christ as its center for direction the family can be taken up with an ideology that soon employs Christian values but becomes devoid of Christ Himself, resulting not in patience and tolerant forbearance but in narcissistic introspection and indifferent apathy.

It is the cunning and subtlety of the devil to induce us to make room for Christ only in the most important part of our lives to serve our plans (even good plans) but not to see our lives as secondary to Christ’s plan of salvation for which He calls us to give of ourselves totally as belonging to Him by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters both within our families and outward towards the peripheries of the larger society. “He must increase, and we must decrease.” This self-donation is demonstrated in the reciprocal love of husband and wife as well as in the pastoral vocation of a priest who must courageously lay down his life in protection of the sheep from the cunning of the wolf and the indolence of the hired hand.

The role of the Church is neither to hide within the home, nor is the role of the Church to be the only institution to offer guidance and direction in society. Rather, the Church must fulfill its divine mandate to proclaim the Gospel to everyone in the entire world, and in service of that proclamation the Church gladly gives to the world its treasures that reflect the truth about both God and the human person. These are treasures from which a culture is formed beginning with the integrity of marital and family life.

The responsibility of husbands to their wives and of wives to their husbands is to sanctify each other through prayer and living the Gospel of mercy in the practical order of the day that never goes as planned. The responsibility of fathers and mothers to their sons and daughters is to prepare them for heaven by teaching them to keep the commandments as Christ taught us by loving God and neighbor. The responsibility of sons and daughters to their mothers and fathers is to grow from mere compliance to an obedience rooted in respect and love of which the sweetest fruit is joy.

In a few moments we each will approach the altar again to be nourished by the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, by which Christ gives us Himself, forgives our sins, and converts us as His Church and as members of His Church, the New Israel and the People of God. The communion of the Eucharist reveals to us again the beautiful two-in-one flesh communion of married life; the sacrificial love of Christ for His Spouse, the Church, and our mission to be sent into the world to evangelize.


Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time: The Twenty-fifth Anniversary of The Priestly Ordination of Bishop Michael Olson

Photo by Juan Guajardo / NTC

July 9, 2019
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Catholic Church
Keller, Texas

Genesis 32:23-33
Psalm 17
2 Corinthians 11:18-30
Matthew 9:32-38

As I look around this church this evening and see so many people whom I’ve baptized, confirmed, received their wedding vows, anointed and absolved, and ordained, my heart is filled with joy and I realize that thanksgiving brings us together this evening for two reasons.

First, thanksgiving is always the reason for our coming together for the celebration and sacrifice of the Mass because the very name “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and it is the only fitting way that we can offer God true worship and thanks for the gift of His Son.

Secondly, the occasion that brings us together is for us to share gratitude and to express thanks for the gift of 25 years of priestly life and ministry granted to me by Christ. As always, the readings that the Church offers us in celebrating the liturgy help us to enter more deeply into these mysteries.

Our first reading from Genesis requires a little context for understanding. It begins with Jacob having sent his wives, children, and belongings ahead of himself to the place where he is going to meet up with his brother Esau. Jacob is unsure of how that meeting with Esau is going to turn out because he had tricked Esau out of the blessing of their father, Isaac.

Esau and Jacob are twins. Esau is born first so that means that the customary rights of inheritance belong to him even though Jacob is born closely behind Esau, grabbing at Esau’s heel. Their father, Isaac is blind in old age. One day, Esau is hungry, and Jacob takes advantage of Esau’s immediate hunger by bartering with him for Isaac’s blessing and inheritance in exchange for a bowl of stew. Esau agrees to the trade and loans Jacob his cloak so that he can fool their father into thinking that Jacob is Esau.

Isaac is blind and biased towards Esau who is clearly his favorite. Esau is Isaac’s favorite. Esau is entertaining and interesting. Jacob is not. In fact, Jacob is a little pushy and grabby. Yet, when Isaac mistakenly blesses Jacob, the blessing is efficacious. To use a more colloquial expression from our own religious tradition, “it counts for Sunday.” It’s a real blessing and the blessing of the birthright has been given to Jacob even though he has grabbed it, in part, through his own manipulation and quick-thinking.

In Isaac, we see a blindness born of a biased system detached from discernment of God’s will. In Esau, we see entitlement endorsed by a biased system detached from discernment of God’s will. In Jacob, we see envy and self-promotion born of the resentment of a biased system detached from discernment of God’s will.

Esau’s entitlement prompts him to squander what is in fact not his to give away in the first place — the blessing of his father that is in fact a grace of God given through Isaac for the sake of the salvation of the world from sin. Jacob’s envy drives him to squander his own identity and integrity to grab the blessing of his father by pretending to be someone he is not. These are the people through whom God has chosen to bring about His plan of salvation.

In my own life as a priest, having entered seminary some 39 years ago, I can tell you that these approaches of Isaac, of Esau, and of Jacob are sadly not uncommon temptations in the formation of priests and seminarians; very human temptations that have brought about much misery for us today. The approach of Isaac: rely on the bias of the system as automated through indirect discourse and reduce formation to blind and passive compliance to a protocol and a matter of wardrobe. The approach of Esau: to recast a vocation as being a piece of apparel that can be worn as reversible or exchanged for another gift at one’s short-sighted convenience. The approach of Jacob: pretend to be someone you’re not through vesture to appease the bias of the system in order to grab the blessing of ordination.

These approaches are temptations born of fear that are steeped in an atmosphere where God, manifested in His truth, is ignored. These also are the people through whom God’s Son has chosen to continue bringing about His plan of salvation.

Truth follows Jacob everywhere he goes until he comes to the place depicted in our first reading this evening. Jacob finds himself in the dark. The truth pounces upon him and initiates a struggle with Jacob and a grappling contest ensues. The struggling continues within the darkness until the break of daylight, when Jacob is wounded and weakened. Jacob seeks a blessing from his opponent at the end of the contest. This time Jacob identifies himself honestly by his own name in order to receive the blessing — a blessing offered at the initiative of God — not a prize of Jacob’s grabbing as was the blessing that he received from Isaac. Jacob has come to the splendor of the truth.

God gives Jacob the new name of Israel which means “having contended with God.” Jacob, now called Israel, becomes the father of God’s chosen people. This is just as a priest is blessed and ordained to be a father of the People of God and to lead them through contending with the truth in the hard-fought grace of conversion and reconciliation with God. Jacob’s call and blessing from God is much like the life and ministry of the priesthood — a grace that is not earned but rather placed within a struggle, and a “contending with God” in a contest of discernment and formation begun at God’s initiative not our own.

My 25 years of priestly life have involved many struggles and many graces offered by God within these struggles. Priesthood is not for the faint of heart. Many of you who have known me throughout these 25 years know that I seldom have enjoyed the birthright status of Esau in the paternal hearts of some superiors who at times have seemed to me to be abundantly blessed with Isaac’s vision. Yet, God has so blessed me by offering so many of His graces through their generosity and in the struggles with the truth — the truth about myself, the truth about the priesthood, the truth about the Church, and the truth that is fully and gloriously revealed to us in Christ Himself — that God loves us unconditionally and goes to any length to save us. For these graces and their struggles I thank God and those through whom He offered them to me, that I might never forget that they are a gift, and if I should do so, that He might compassionately remind me.

Photo by Ben Torres / NTC

The Greek word for truth is aletheia, its literal meaning is not forgetting. Many have helped me not to forget that the truth about priesthood does not involve the shortsighted passivity and vesture of Esau, but the gritty and receptive perseverance of Jacob who receives his vocation to be Israel through contending with the truth. I have found this to be true throughout these past 25 years of priestly life and ministry. The Lord continues to not let me forget this lesson through you, the members of the Church, who remind me of God’s unconditional love for which we each of us are grateful.

Aletheia. Not forgetting. This means we cannot hide. We cannot hide from the awful fact and summons of the Cross. It also means that we cannot hide from the glory and the promise of the Resurrection.

The Gospel speaks of Christ’s heart being moved by compassion for the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep without a shepherd do not live long and can only survive for a very short period. Sheep without a shepherd are easily manipulated and prone to various dangers. It is easy to survive by convenient narratives and false pretenses, but only for a short time.

Christ the Good Shepherd leads us into the pastures of the truth, verdant with justice and mercy. It is the life of a priest, including my own, ordained unworthily into the image and likeness of Christ the Good Shepherd that requires the entire gift and transformation of self so that the priest’s life not become the proclamation of himself. We priests can only do this through the grace received in the struggle that prompts us to boast of nothing but our weakness. Weakness is the place where Christ gives us this grace, as Saint Paul exemplifies in our second reading today. Weakness is the place where we don’t forget, as Jacob didn’t forget.

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 weakness 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…”

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 when he 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…”

His health soon worsened to the point where he could no longer receive appropriate care and attention in the monastery and 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, “what is this place?” The abbot told him that it was his new priestly assignment. With that being said, Father B 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 to forget. As priests, we have nothing to boast in but our weakness. It is in that weakness that we receive the grace of not forgetting that our vocation is a gift to live at the hand of God — who is not so much the truth which we grab and cling to as much as the Truth that holds us and uses us as instruments for the salvation of souls. He is the truth that does not forget us even more than He is the truth that we don’t forget.

I join with you, especially my brother priests, at the altar in thanking God for our shared vocation that is an unearned grace offered to us in our struggle not to forget. I renew my efforts with each and all of you in gratefully responding to this grace, the grace that is wrapped in the struggle with the truth so clearly needed today in the darkness of our culture that prefers the squandering of the complacent entitlement of Esau to the graced, gradual, and hard-fought conversion of Jacob. Finally, as we thank God in the sacrifice of this Mass, in the way that He desires to be thanked, let’s boast together only in our weakness that is made manifest in our contending with God on behalf of His people in a contest that God started through calling us to serve Him as His priests.