Tuesday, August 25, 2020

St. Louis IX and Purity of Heart

I had the Mass today at St. John's Seminary. This was the homily. 

In the early 1990’s, a weekly comedy appeared on British television. The protagonist was a middle-class woman, from a middle-class town, who lived in a middle-class home, and was married to an average, hum-drum middle-class guy. Her name was Hyacinth Bucket. Or, as she would be quick to correct anyone who said that, “It is pronounced bouquet.” 

The entire show revolved around Hyacinth Bouquet’s delusions of grandeur. She liked to think of herself as part of the British aristocracy, and each episode turned hysterically funny as her delusions of grandeur collided with the reality of who she really was. The name of the show was, “Keeping up Appearances.” One thing was clear from the show . . . keeping up appearances is a lot more exhausting than simply living in reality.  

Today—on the 750th anniversary of his death--the Church honors and seeks the intercession of a man who during his earthly life likely did not find the English particularly funny. He was also not at all concerned with keeping up appearances. He was, in fact, real royalty, but not at all consumed by the outward trappings of power. St. Louis IX was consumed with becoming a saint. He earnestly and ardently desired true holiness. He did not care how others saw him. He cared how God saw him. St. Louis did not spend his life keeping up appearances. He spent every moment of his life keeping firm in the life of grace. His biographers tell us that hidden from others, he spent long hours in prayer, fasting, and penance.   

Yesterday, we heard Jesus praise Nathaniel for being without guile. Today, we hear him rebuke those who are hypocrites. Sometimes we can all feel as though we are hypocrites because we say we believe one thing, but we do something completely different. Contrary to popular belief, however, that is not hypocrisy. It’s sin (and sin is bad), but it’s not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is when we merely try to look good without actually making any effort to be good. It is about giving the appearance of goodness, but without possessing it. It is an offense against truth because it is a form of deception. It’s about making the outside of the cup look pure, but not caring one way or another about the purity of the inside. 


All of us struggle with various temptations, sins, and faults. We should humbly and honestly acknowledge them and seek pardon from the Lord. If we don’t attend to our sins, failings, and faults, and are not honest about them, they can overwhelm us and discourage us. Then, we are left merely focusing on keeping up the appearances of goodness and holiness.  

The Pharisees and the scribes were consumed with the outward appearances of ritual purity, but their hearts were seemingly impure. They acted not from love of God, but from love of self. A pure heart is one that is directed toward God. The hypocritical heart is trapped in a world of self-love. 

In contrast to the Pharisees and the scribesSt. Louis was a man who was pure in heart. He sought to do God’s will in all things. He saw his entire life in terms of his call to sanctity. He saw his kingship as a way of serving God. 

We shouldn’t worry so much about how we appear to others. Man sees the appearance, but God sees the heart. And all of the things in our heart that we try to cover over by keeping up appearances ... those are the parts of us that God wants us to open up to him so that we can experience His healing love. The absurdity of keeping up appearances made for great British comedy, but it makes for a tragic and sad spiritual life.  

In a few moments, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Majestic King, the Victor over sin and death, the Eternal Son of the Father—He who is true God from true God, begotten not made—He who is consubstantial with the Father—He through whom all things were made—He is going to appear to us. He will not appear to us in all of His Risen Glory. Instead, he will come to us under the humble appearance of bread and wine.  

At the very end of King Louis IX’s earthly life, he got up from his death bed and humbly knelt to receive the Eucharist. He knew that his earthly realm and crown meant nothing compared to the eternal crown prepared for him in the realms –of glory. He was purein heart. And purity of heart helpsus to see things as they are. He saw the one who appeared as a suffering servant and who wore a Crown of Thorns, and professed him to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He saw beyond the appearances of bread and wine to the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ. 

We should take great solace that today St. Louis intercedes for us. May his prayers and our worthy reception of that same Holy Eucharist keep us free from the snares of hypocrisy and from the futile and exhausting keeping up of appearances, and make us increasingly men who are pure of heart. Blessed are the pure of heart, for--like St.  Louis--will indeed see God. 

St. Louis IX Built Ste. Chapelle to House the Relics of the Crown of Thorns

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Beware of What Will Kill the Soul

"Beware." It's a great word. It's a serious word. I remember as a kid, my brothers and I would take the train everywhere with our mother. All along the tracks there were signs that read, "Beware of the Third Rail!" We knew that meant, "Touch it and Die!" It had life or death consequences. Similarly, when we see a house with a sign on the fence that says, "Beware of the Dog," we do not immediately think of a little fluffy ankle high puppy running around. We think, "Big-toothed, killer." "Beware" is about serious things. 

In the Gospels, Jesus tells us to beware of only a handful of things. Firstly, he tells us to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (LK 12:1) and "the yeast of Herod" (MK 8:15). A little bad yeast can spoil everything. Thus, we have to beware of our coming to total and absolute ruin. It seems that the yeast that the Lord is talking about is separating our external actions from the internal ones. In the case of the Pharisees, the Lord often seems to be criticizing how they do all of the external things with great attention, but their hearts are not converted. Similarly, Herod tries to live his life in a way that serves those who are in power. He is more concerned with living a life of pleasure, comfort, and power than in he is in keeping the moral law. Jesus tell us to "beware" of these things because they could destroy us. It's not a, "Gee, if you have time to give it any thought, maybe, you know, you might not want to be living in this way." No, he is saying, "These things will utterly ruin you. Beware."

Next, Jesus tells us, "Beware of covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things he possesses" (LK 12:15). An undo attachment to the things of this world can lead us to a forgetfulness of God and the things of God. We can easily begin to live for our possessions thinking that these things are what truly matters. It often happens gradually, but it is deadly. We become slaves of our wealth and our comfort. They become our master and we gradually sever our ties to the Lord. He becomes a forgotten deity up in the sky that I think of occasionally. What becomes the driving force in my life is my golf game, my vacation home, my time, my money, my stature etc. Beware, because this covetousness will ruin us.

"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as servants and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given what to say" (MT10:16-19). Here the Lord warns us against putting our trust in worldly powers and in a desire for popularity. If we are truly his disciples, then we will be at odds with the prevailing ways of the world. If we find ourselves sounding almost indistinguishable from a particular news channel, a particular political party, or from the trending opinions of social media, we might well be on our way to ruin. Yes, we should be wary of trusting too much in worldliness and popularity. Here, the Lord doesn't tell us to be afraid of suffering at the hands of others. It actually seems to be the opposite. Here he tells us to be aware that these things will definitely happen when we are his faithful disciples, but we shouldn't be afraid. It's to be expected.

Lastly, the Lord warns us, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (MT 7:15). Many of the other "bewares" seem to be more like spiritual cancers that can infect us: covetousness, hypocrisy, undo desire for power, pleasure, or popularity. But here, the warning is about being actively hunted. If it is not bad enough that as sheep we have to "beware of wolves," now we learn that there are wolves wearing sheep's clothing. They are slipping into the midst of the flock like sleeper cells, ready to attack. They speak words that tickle our ears and that subtly undermine our Faith and our moral life. They often endear themselves to us by mixing truth and falsehood. They lure the sheep away from the Shepherd by cunning and by flattery. They can often be detected because they propose themselves as an alternative to the Shepherd. They instruct the weak and the vulnerable sheep "not to be like sheep, but to think for themselves." All the while, they are leading them astray. These false prophets never walk away completely from the flock because they are there to destroy. Instead, they always walk that fine line, masterful in avoiding detection. 

This last "beware" requires us to become expert in knowing the voice of the Good Shepherd. This voice becomes familiar to us as we pray, read the scriptures, grow in virtue, and cultivate a friendship with Christ. His voice is also consistent. His is the voice that speaks throughout the long history of the Church. If you hear someone who says things that sound ever so slightly edgy, avant-garde, out of sync with everything that the Church has taught from time immemorial, you may want to look more closely at that sheep's teeth. Jesus said to beware of very few things. Wolves in sheep's clothing is one of them. That's because he knows the end game of the wolf. We should too.

Hypocrisy, possessions, power, pleasure, prestige, popularity, coziness with the world, and false prophets who are like wolves in sheep's clothing: these are all things that could destroy us. We are all very susceptible to these dangers and it's worth all of us examining ourselves and our circumstances to make sure we are not walking dangerously close to the third rail. Do I know the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do I love his voice? Am I too concerned about how I am perceived by others? Is my version of Christianity almost indistinguishable from some political platform? Am I more concerned about worldly comfort than eternal life? Am I allowing myself to be seduced by a false prophet? Beware.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Does Your Heart Desire a Better World?


It's been quite some time since I last blogged. But, I love the Feast of the Assumption and wanted to share a few thoughts.

A few days ago, it was a hot summer morning and I was up early covering a 7am Mass at a parish about 30 minutes away from the seminary where I now live. As I was stopped at a red light, I noticed a construction worker hoofing it. It seemed evident that he was walking fast to get to work. A pickup truck stopped and rolled down the window. The construction worker asked a question and then he jumped in. My guess is that the driver was on his way to the same site, but that they didn't know each other. 

It was a rather simple encounter, but it has stuck with me all week. In the mist of a year marked by so much turmoil, sickness, and chaos, it was relieving to see something normal. It was relieving and comforting to see something and think, "That's the way the world is supposed to be." We want the world to be the way it was intended to be.

I felt that way a few weeks ago as I witnessed the marriage vows of some friends of mine. Their wedding had been delayed because of the pandemic. In a church filled with people--masked and six feet apart--a bride walked down the aisle. I think for all of us in that church, we felt relieved to see something good, true, and beautiful; something normal. The way the world was meant to be.

Today, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see something beautiful, comforting, and consoling. We see someone who--from beginning to end--lived life as it was intended to be. We rejoice because we see grace at work. We see grace lead to glory. 

Over the past months, we have felt like we've been living in the apocalypse.  And the second reading today speaks of the dragon seeking--like the serpent in the Gook of Genesis--to destroy the woman. But he fails. The woman is victorious because of God's grace. The one who is pure, undefiled, beautiful, obedient, charitable, and strong is escorted today--body and soul--into Paradise. It brings us relief. Evil does not have the final word. Evil does not have ultimate power. She crushes the head of the serpent.  

We live in a culture that is angry about everything. Angry about politics. Angry about people who wear masks. Angry about people who don't wear masks. Angry that the world isn't the way it was meant to be. On the Feat of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are reminded that this anger and vitriol is not what will bring us happiness. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminds us that the true victory is the Victory of Christ, a victory that invites all of us into the life of grace. 

If we can only raise our eyes as high as a political office, candidate or political party, we will never find peace in our life. In the Garden of Eden, the Devil convinced Adam and Eve to look no higher than a tree...and that was their downfall. He still tries to convince us that our true happiness will be provided by some political power, illicit pleasure, or some possession. Over and over again, we fall into his trap. It's not that we desire too much. We desire too little. We settle for less. We put all of our energies into things that cannot and will not ever make us happy: Power, pleasure, and possessions. 

Today, the Church invites us to raise our eyes higher. We raise our eyes to a humble, lowly, self-sacrificing, faithful woman. A woman born in the outskirts of the Roman Empire. A woman who held no worldly power, a woman who lived a virginal life, a woman who possessed nothing other than the will of God. That woman today has been assumed into the highest heavens and granted the greatest glories known to humanity. And if we raise our eyes to her, we see life as it was meant to be. We experience a profound comfort and peace because we finally see something that is the way it was meant to be. Not only that, but we see that it is possible for us to live in a world like that. That fills our hearts today, gives us hope, and is our path to happiness...to victory.