Saturday, December 09, 2006

Spiritual Splendor (Sunday homily)

God just spoke to us, right to us, in the readings.
What did we hear?

“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever”!

“The glory of the Lord”—what does that mean?
Above all, it means the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul spoke to us from the second reading,
encouraging us to persevere;
St. John the Baptist spoke to us, from the Gospel,
Challenging us to repent and be ready for the Lord.

It is the Holy Spirit who does this:
It is the Spirit who, like John the Baptist,
challenges and corrects us if we get off-track.

Even now, St. Paul and St. John the Baptist
are cheering us on, to keep running the race.

They want us to have a truly splendid Christmas!
That means not only ordinary, material splendor,
But far more important, spiritual splendor.

Let me offer two, practical ways to do that.
First: make a good confession.
There’s no good reason not to receive
this sacrament frequently.
Some say, “my sins are that bad.”
When I was a boy, that was the argument I’d use
for why I didn’t really “need” a bath:
I’d say, “I’m not that dirty, dad!”
Dad was never impressed!

If something feels awkward or embarrassing,
that’s even more reason to come:
get it behind you—forever!

The bulletin lists times for confessions;
also, we have a Penance Service this Thursday, 7pm,
at St. Boniface. You come, and bring someone along!

Here’s a second, practical suggestion: do a good turn.

This weekend we take up our annual collection
for the retirement fund
for our religious sisters, brothers and priests.

This isn’t for me, or the parish.
Rather, it’s for those faithful nuns and brothers
who have served the Church so generously,
and now need us to serve them, in their retirement.

You’ve been very generous
in the past—and I know why: Gratitude.
You know how generously the Sisters of Charity
have served our two parishes—and still do.
We need only think of Sister Joan Clare,
Sister Mary Alice, and Sister Ginny.

Sister Joan is my strong, right arm
in our two parishes;
Sister Mary Alice is such a loving, generous presence
in Piqua Catholic School—
If you need a reason to choose Catholic education
for your children, there it is;
same for Sister Ginny, at Lehman.

Today’s special collection will help close the gap
between the needs our retired religious face,
and the resources they have, which aren’t enough.

Bottom line: our dear sisters cared for us;
God asks us, now, to provide for them.

If you throw something in to help them,
you’ll feel a little more “splendid”
as you prepare for Christmas—
that’s a splendor that will last!

All the tinsel and decorations and lights are fun—
but they can’t hold a candle to the splendor
God offers us—namely, the life of the Holy Spirit.

That’s the splendor that Christ
pours down onto you,
when you receive absolution
in confession—it’s wonderful!
That’s the splendor he wants to clothe us with
every day, as we begin and end our days walking with him.

That’s the splendor we share with others,
Whether we share our faith,
or we share the burdens others carry—
such as today’s special collection.

Let’s make this season truly splendid,
with the splendor of the Holy Spirit!


Anonymous said...

"First: make a good confession." -- Father Fox

Father, I don't want to hijack this thread by getting too far off the point of your fine homily, but have you ever written to what it was like to be a newly ordained priest? More specifically, have you ever written to what it was like to actually act "in persona Christi" (In the person of Christ)? Have you ever let your fans or parishioners know what thoughts were going through "your" head when "you" first said the words "This is 'My' body" or " 'I' absolve you?"

I ask for a reason. A great confessor of mine once told me that "it is so much harder to hear a confession than it is to make one." At first I had a hard time believing this. How could it be difficult for you, a priest, to just sit there and listen to me, a sinner, bare my soul and otherwise tell you things that I would NEVER tell another human being on this planet? If anything, hearing confessions should be almost titillating if not somewhat entertaining. Surely it is much harder for me to fess up than it is for you, in silence, to hear what I have to say.

Of course I could and can afford to think that way because I am, after all, not ordained. As a member of the laity, I will never have to be anything other than what I am already -- Jersey Jim, a stone cold sinner. But "you," like my confessor, are different -- truth be told, very different. Sure, you can be obnoxious and opinionated 23 hours out of the day just like the rest of us. You can even do more than your own fair share of sinning. But for that one hour that you are on the altar, or for that one hour that you are hearing confessions, "you" have to be Christ.

Now keep in mind that I have, in this life, been humbled more times than I care to remember. (And I have the scars to prove it!) That said, I can't imagine just how humbling it must be to have act "in the person of Christ." I can't even begin to imagine what is it like to have to be Christ at any time, much less to have to be Christ to someone that desperately needs Christ at that particular moment (e.g., a sinner in the confessional, someone requiring the Anointing of the Sick, etc). I could sooner imagine myself being a four-star General, a Supreme Court Justice or even President of our great nation. But Christ? Never in my wildest dreams would I ever dare to be that presumptuous. But yet, and for you and every priest like you, "in persona Christi" is in your very job description.

I think if more Catholics thought about what "the guy on the other side of the screen" (a priest) was going through, we'd be a lot less hesitant to frequent confession ourselves, our fears and trepidations notwithstanding. But then again, that is just my opinion. What do I know?

In Persona Christi

Incidentally, and to the extent that I have ever wronged you in any way, Father -- and I have -- I apologize. I sincerely hope that you can see fit to forgive me. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas.

Rachel said...

Seamus, you've convinced me that hearing a confession must be daunting. :) I love it when priests talk about it. I think we need gentle reminders for things like confession that run against the grain of what the rest of the world teaches. If the priest doesn't encourage you to go to confession, you're sure not likely to get encouragement anywhere else! By the way, Father Fox had a great post on confession on May 11, 2006.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, thanks for pointing out Fr. Martin's May 11 post. I wish I'd read it at the was, ironically, 9 days before I made a general confession after 20 years away from the Catholic Church. I'm now pretty much a weekly Reconcilation seeker.

Seamus, one priest I've confessed to claims to have a kind of "spiritual amnesia," basically forgetting what he's been told. I actually had to remind him one time about a prior confession in order to give context to a current struggle.

Fr. Martin, you almost make me want to move to Ohio...and that's saying a lot!

Anonymous said...

Is there something wrong with me? I am a Catholic but I don't think of laity and clergy as two separate classes. Everyone seems like equal human beings to me. I cannot understand why being a priest or nun is more difficult than being a parent or a spouse. In some ways it's easier. A priest will never have to see a beloved spouse othrough a life-threatening illness
or watch his own child die. A priest is never abandoned by his wife for another lover. A nun never knows firsthand what it's like for her fiance to go to Iraq and then return in a coffin. Neither priests nor nuns will ever participate in the daily ongoing sacrifices necessary in a marriage and a family. In fact, many are conveniently excused from family elder care because they are clergy, while their lay siblings deal with the mess and horror of a parent with Alzheimer's or Huntington's disease. Yes, priests and nuns work hard - but the nature of their work frees them from the deep emotional investment others give.
I think the Catholic church has deified its clergy and vastly minimized the heroic nature of lay life, perhaps to make the clerical life more desirable to potential recruits? I just can't find solid reasons why the clergy are superior to the laity. I don't say this to take anything away from the clergy, but to elevate the laypeople to where they should have always been - equal.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

Everything you've said is true, but I'm not sure how it connects to the subject of confession. It seems to me we were talking about the different roles of priest and penitent inside the confessional, not a big-picture comparison of who has a tougher life, or who is superior. I don't know anyone who believes priests are automatically superior to laypeople, and I know many priests who have acknowledged the things you have about the struggles of lay life.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, my response was prompted by the first post on this topic where seamus refers to himself as a member of the laity/a stone cold sinner, and the priest as "very different" because while the priest may be a part-time sinner, he is also Christ at other times.. I think lay people are Christ too at times.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

I think you are talking about several different things and may not be familiar with the language, the theology and the 'Catholic short cut phrases'. Additionally, this also doesn't meant that some laity think they are 'beneath' the religious and some religious don't think they are 'above' the laity. They are both wrong.

First - while priests may be religious (members of religious orders) not all religious are priests. Priests (the ordained) are in fact different than a lay person. They are ontologically changed at ordination and it can never be taken away. (The right to use it legally may be taken away but not the ability.) Priests and Bishops act 'in persona Christi' and it is easiest to see when they speak in the first person of Christ. At the Consecration - 'This is MY Body' and in Confession 'I absolve you from your sins.'

Lay people cannot do that. Do lay people bring the love of Christ to people - ABSOLUTELY - look at Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Blessed now). She saw Christ in everyone and LOVED LIKE CHRIST. She certainly brought Christ to others and all of us in the laity have the obligation to do that. Many people that are not Catholics or Christians or not practicing don't feel comfortable knocking on the door of the rectory or talking to a man in a collar - but they will talk to us across the desk or lunch table. And at that time, we bring them Christ. We may be the only Christ they have met up until that point.

Holiness is a different thing. IT is not a state in life. We are ALL called to holiness. So from a holiness standpoint - your state in life (religious, ordained, married, single, etc.) does not matter. The particular situation may give you different opportunities - but the goal for everyone is to LOVE CHRIST, LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, GET TO HEAVEN AND BRING AS MANY WITH YOU AS YOU CAN. Regardless of your state in life.

Finally, your comments about it being easier to be a regligious or a priest because they don't have a wife or child may be true at some level. I suspect that not having the responsiblity of a family (hence one of the arguments of a celibate priesthood) is to allow a priest to dedicate himself to doing Christ's work in the Church - being 'in persona Christi' BUT any priest (or non ordained religious) that can't be hurt and feel sadness or pain also isn't able to LOVE. A priest is the bridegroom and the Church is his wife - we are his wife. How could he sit in a room with parents from his parish as their child is dying and NOT suffer, NOT lose sleep? How can he NOT suffer as he buries the soldier as his wife and children are there in front of him? And - how can he not suffer as he thinks of what he willing gave up (career, wife, family, children, etc. and looks out at the Church and sees the smiling families) and KNOWING there will always be some level of lonelines and always being a 'little on the outside' with people because of a collar. And he will do this UNTIL HE DIES. This does NOT mean there is not great joy - I have seen that on the faces of priests and have heard them talk about the joy in their lives. BUT - it's not all joy.

No, I'm afraid that you have short changed the priests and the religious or elevated the laity to the ONLY ones who can really love and feel lose and pain.

Hope that helps. God Bless and Prayers

Anonymous said...

I love your comment, Jackie...
Everyone has their share of suffering in life, whether they be married, single or in the religious life. We all bear different crosses.

Fr Martin Fox said...


It can be very humbling to hear confessions.