Homily: St Jerome

Today we commemorate St Jerome, Doctor of the Church. He is known for translating the Bible into Latin, for which he had to learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He grew up speaking Illyrian, whatever that is, maybe Albanian. Jerome, in Latin Hieronymus; Geronimo, happy name day.

He had a marked temperament. He was very choleric, and had strained relations even with his friends. He corresponded with numerous people, including with Augustine, who was extremely patient, and ended up estranged from his best friend, Paulinus. He is usually depicted in a Cardinal’s garb with a lion and striking his breast with a stone. He’s very dour looking up there. He lived for many years in Israel, in the desert. He was a desert father, in a sense. The most important thing about him is that he lived the vita ascetica—he lived with that stone. This vita ascetica is the one thing I want to say about Jerome. He wrote a work on virginity, On Virginity. Many women came from Rome to live around him in the desert, and people talked about him a lot because of this. But he knew, lived, and taught the value of chastity. To be chaste is to be on fire with love, with love of God. Acting on torrid passions is cold, it is icy cold. The world around us tells us all about the glories of sex, as it did in Jerome’s time. Rome in Jerome’s time was decadent with regards to sex, like some places we might know today. Even inside the Church, people talk about the wonders of sex; it’s a wonder Catholics haven’t written tantric manuals. But that is not the tradition. We speak of sex with great reverence. Augustine knew what it was to be a slave to sex. Origen, who lived slightly before the time of Augustine and Jerome, knew the dangers of sex. He was rather more zealous than Jerome, but he was a great theologian. Jerome, Augustine, and Pope Benedict all highly revere him. It is only his zealousness that has kept him from being named a saint; if you don’t know about this already, you can ask Sam later. Augustine knew the relief of chastity, after years of orgy.

To be chaste is to be most on fire with love. Virginity is a way of life, of the heart. In looking at Jerome’s On Virginity I saw where the Church fathers spoke of becoming virgin again: it is a matter of the heart. Only love can conquer lust; only love can conquer lust. Chastity and virginity are not about a physical state, but about your heart. It has to do with all 24 hours, not just the one hour when temptation comes. You can’t live, be, however you want in those 23 hours and expect to keep from falling in that one hour. Sure, a cold shower helps at that hour, we have all the natural means available to us, but we must at all time cultivate chastity in our heart. Be on fire with love. Be consumed with longing for the Lord, as in the first reading today.

I get into conversations with people about the spirituality of the diocesan priest versus the spirituality of the religious priest. I think that really, on a gross level, there is one spirituality, because there is one Spirit, the Holy Spirit. But I do believe that diocesan priests are called to be desert fathers, like St Jerome, leading people into the desert to purity of heart.

Many people translated the Bible before Jerome, and after. That is not the important thing about him. It is his asceticism. There was a medieval pope who said, “Jerome, but for that stone you would not have been canonized.”Jerome’s asceticism is all that matters about him.


Homily: St Wenceslaus

St Wenceslaus was a duke, in Bohemia. One thing, there's no "slaus" in the Eastern European languages; his name really is "Wenceslav", much nicer. "Slaus" is a Anglicization, or Latinization of "slav", which means "glory". In the Russian liturgy you'll hear them repeat "slav, slav, slav". We probably use "slaus" from "laus", or praise. The Slavs came from three brothers, who got to the Carpathians and divided up: one went west, forming the Czechs, one north to form the Poles, and one east to form Russia. These were then evangelized by Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were Slavs or Greeks. The Czechs were also evangelized by missionaries from Germany. A generation or two after this evangelization was when Wenceslaus lived. His father was Christian, but his mother and brother were not. He was raised Christian by his grandmother, Ludmilla, herself a saint. He was duke of Bohemia, reigning from Prague. He was killed by his brother Boleslaus at the church doors, after feasting with him. His last words were of forgiveness to his brother. This is what the Christian life is, a life of forgiveness.

The readings are full of misery today; they are very Jewish. Job curses the day he was born, that he is male, that he nursed. The reading there clearly shows a belief that it is better to be dead than to be alive, there is so much misery in life. The Psalm is more of the same: I cry out, I clamor, a call for help, being surfeited with troubles, near death... "With all your billows you overwhelm me"...it's like being buffeted with a wave when you're body-surfing. These readings are just full of the misery and suffering of life. And that is the good news, because the faith encounters the misery of life. The Jews had a real sense of misery, that the Gentiles did not. The Gentiles did not encounter misery, they tried to gloss over it and ignore it; they had great heroes. If the story of David had been written by Gentiles, there would have been no Bathsheba.

In the Gospel today Jesus is among the Samaritans, but is going to Jerusalem. He is going to Jerusalem, even though Mount Zion is nowhere near as impressive a mountain as is the Samaritans' Mount Gerizim. Of course, in Israel, none of the mountains are really impressive. No offence to our Wisconsin brothers, but it's a little like going to Holy Hill. But he was going to Jerusalem, and because of this they would not welcome him. He was going to Jerusalem, which is the place of his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. By uniting our misery with his passion, we too can redeem the misery and suffering in the world.


Homily: St Matthew

I know we are pressed for time today with the photos, so I will limit my homily to a few thoughts.

We are about four weeks into the semester, and I've noticed that it is showing on some of your faces. There's difficulty and frustration. Living in community isn't easy. We can't get along with anyone for a long time, without the Holy Spirit. And you're subject to formation, and I know that will make you feel helpless. Institutions are imperfect. You all are trying to be good, to win approval. But we do each need to hear a different drummer. Keep one ear open to that different drummer, without ignoring the drummer that keeps you in line. We need the institutional drummer to help us keep going and get things done, so strike a balance between the two.

Our Lord today tells us, "I did not come to call the righteous but sinners", and that he desires mercy. You don't have to go seeking out sin to experience mercy. We are all far worse than we think. Be merciful, and experience God's mercy. Expect God's mercy. God's mercy is like water drops falling from the sky, or like the beautiful trees in autumn. You would sin gravely if you don't go look at, spend time with the trees. Go, and sin no more.


Lectio Divina: Lk 16:1-13

And he said also to his disciples: There was a certain rich man who had a steward: and the same was accused unto him, that he had wasted his goods. And he called him, and said to him: How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship: for now thou canst be steward no longer. And the steward said within himself: What shall I do, because my lord taketh away from me the stewardship? To dig I am not able; to beg I am ashamed. I know what I will do, that when I shall be removed from the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. Therefore calling together every one of his lord's debtors, he said to the first: How much dost thou owe my lord? But he said: An hundred barrels of oil. And he said to him: Take thy bill and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then he said to another: And how much dost thou owe? Who said: An hundred quarters of wheat. He said to him: Take thy bill, and write eighty. And the lord commended the unjust steward, forasmuch as he had done wisely: for the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light. And I say to you: Make unto you friends of the mammon of iniquity; that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings. He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater. If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon; who will trust you with that which is the true? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's; who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

I went in a few different directions with this reading for today, none of them particularly in-depth.
First, I realized that the steward and his master really had different interests. A good steward would have his interests aligned to those of his master. So how am I to go about aligning my interests with Jesus'? I came up with prayer, loving him (though I don't know exactly how on that one), and asceticism.
The master commends the steward for acting wisely; in the NAB this was "prudently", which made me think of shrewd, and Jesus' words to the 12 in Mt 10 to be as cunning as serpents and innocent as doves. I don't think I have a great portion of the virtue of prudence, owing in no small part, I imagine, to my youth. The week prior to doing this lectio I was cantor at my parish house, so I got to choose hymns for lauds and vespers. At the seminary, custom is that we only use the common of saints when we absolutely must. I prefer a liberal use of the commons, and so I imposed that as cantor. There was never a good chance to warn people ahead of time, and while my goal was a good, I was concerned I may have been imprudent about my means of achieving that end. That experience was I think why the bit about prudence caught me so much in this reading. How am I to develop prudence? I came up with praying for it, sheer experience, and in particular situations asking the Holy Spirit what I ought to do. Josh offered the advice that virtues are habits, so in a given situation ask 'what would the prudent man do', and then do that; eventually by doing this I'll develop the habit of prudence.
The ending bit, about being unjust in small things then in big things, was discouraging. It's all to easy to cut corners, particularly in unimportant areas of obedience. For example, chapel casual at the seminary does not include sandals, only shoes. I typically wear sandals with socks for chapel casual. I thought that this week a good way to put this gospel into practice would be to mortify myself and wear real shoes when I'm in chapel casual, rather than my beloved Birks. It's a minor minor point, but I have grown in the past week, mortifying myself over something really stupid, but which really does annoy me to no end. I forced myself to be faithful in a small thing, so hopefully I'll get better about being faithful in the big things.


First Philosophy

We've started our school year at St John Vianney, and I am at the very beginning of the academic track, first philosophy. I'm really enjoying my classes, though the reading for them has tended to keep me quite busy. My classes are: Rhetoric, Latin, Metaphysics, Intro to Liturgy, Logic, and Personalism. Personalism is a fascinating class; personalism was a Catholic movement around the 20s and 30s which focused on persons rather than things, as a response to the rise of both fascism and communism.

Homily: St Boniface

Back to my interrupted series, of homilies from our 30 day retreat by my favourite priest:

The Election, vocation, and priesthood are on my mind today. I'd like to talk about priesthood. Growing up I didn't really like priests. Some of my relatives had gone into schism, and therew as a general distrust of priests. There were very good priests when I went to university, though. The first was elderly, and very humble. At the university very few faculty are humble, and this Jesuit had a high position there. He didn't really have the qualifications for it, but that's where the Jesuits sent him; that's just the way they did it in those days. When I went on the cruise, we had classes, and then when I got back the school didn't want to give me credit for that year. So this priest wrote the courses and credits on my transcript, and that was that. The second was very kindly. The guys who lived on his hall would bowl down the hall, right outside his room, loudly playing the 1812 Overture. This priest came out of his room, and all he said was, "Can't you listen to something more tasteful?" The third once told me something, I won't tell you what it was, but it was a hard truth lovingly but firmly put. These men were always there for us. I stayed for a time with a Protestant minister and his family. I saw that his family always came first before his people. But priests don't have this family to attend to. What struck me about those priests was that they were always, always, there for us, even when we didn't care, or were bowling in front of their room.

One more man I want to talk about, he wasn't a priest, he was a layman. He had come to the States as a stowaway, and lived here illegally working as a stone mason for many years. He was like a father to me. Eventually he returned with his wife to Italy, and when I was there studying we were like family. I would come over every weekend for dinner. When I was going back to the States, he was walking me to the station, a man of 92, and this is what he told me: "Don't talk much, listen a lot, and do the good that you can."


Homily: Birth of Mary

Let us commemorate the illustrious birth of the glorious Virgin Mary, for the Lord has looked with favor on his lowly servant. He sent his angel to announce to her that she would conceive the Savior of the world.

Today is the feast of the Nativity of Mary, and our beloved Jesuit preached to us today at the seminary, so I am interrupting the flow of his homilies from the 30-day retreat to present this one, on the day of its delivery:

Dn Dygert did such a good job with that genealogy. We go through that whole thing, and find out that it isn’t even Jesus’ ancestry. Its that of Joseph, Mary’s husband, of whom Christ was born.
For that whole list, nothing new is really happening; its just more of the same. Abraham, Rahab, David, most people’s lives have some drama, but are largely the same. Mary is something new, and that’s what we’re celebrating today. There was the excitement of the first temple with David and Solomon, but then God’s presence left the temple and the people were dispersed everywhere.
Mary is the new thing, the only thing, we have to offer the world. Everything else is more of the same.
Everything starts today, in the birth of this woman who is the beginning of God re-creating the world; in three months we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, where God sanctified, raised up the marriage embrace and made it bear this holy fruit.
God made it very clear that to enter the kingdom of heaven we have to become like little children. Most people don’t want to enter the kingdom of heaven; even most Catholics don’t want to enter the kingdom of heaven; we’re much more comfortable here, with what we can see, paying off of mortgages; making plans for success and seeing them through. Our brains handle that easily. But we have to be oriented to the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of earth. We’ll pray shortly “thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, not “as it is on earth”. Mary was childlike.
Mothers teach their children. Mary had such an influence on Jesus, teaching him for the 33 years of his life. Don’t mothers teach their children so much? Even to smile. Coochie-coo.
We don’t know much about Mary, except that she said yes. And that’s all we really need to know. We know of her because we are part of her family. That family formed when Jesus said to her from the cross “woman, behold your son”, and to John “behold your mother”. The family that was formed around her on Pentecost. She said yes to God. This is all we need. To say yes to God. And saying no to the devil helps, too.

Homily: St Charles Lwanga and Companions

Here we are in the middle of retreat. One of my friends has noticed that once you get over the hill, you pick up speed. So, the retreat days you'll find, will go a bit faster now.

On this retreat we want to be developing a taste, a sense, for the things of God. Great breakthroughs may happen, though they don't for most. And that's ok; they can be forged by the devil. Develop a taste for the things of God. Persevere--be present to God, to nature, the good meals we're given, your 21 brothers, none of whom have stabbed anyone yet. You have this time to be with God, away from the world, from town, where people are screaming at eachother, comitting adultery, and getting divorced. Develop a taste for the things of God. Be able to return to the world with this taste in your mouth, because its often hard to tell whether something is of God or not. You want to be able to have an instinct if something is fishy. It's a matter of discernment.

I'm the only priest here without Irish blood in me, but I was formed among Irish Catholics. When I returned to Confession, my confessor asked if I was Irish. When I was 27, a Jesuit novice, I was sent to NY to work with poor hispanics, and on the subway I saw for the first time an Irish face that was not Christian. I was disconcerting to me; the Dying Gaul. I was speaking to a seminarian from Mexico; we don't have a lot in common, I'm not a bit Mexican, I don't even like Mexican food, but we were mourning the deaths of people we knew who had lived without electricity. It's different, even their eyes, having not watched a television, or played video-games; no offence to you all. We live in a world of incredible changes; there is really a dizzying pace of change. That you're all here is a miracle, it really is. The world is going in a completely opposite direction, and you've heard God calling you to this place to spend a month with him.

My favourite aunt is an atheist, though one with morals. One day she asked what I believe, and I spent a couple hours telling her. When it was all over, she said, "What a lovely imagination you have!" But she does have morals. In the 50s she was what you called a "career woman"--had a job, no kids, not married--what you now call a woman, I suppose. Well in the 50s she was living in NYC with a roommate. One night this roommate decided to entertain a man overnight. The next day she kicked her out. This same woman, by the 80s, was saying that abortion is permissible. "Things change, and you have to go along with it." In the world, morality, things, had changed. Now her husband, a scientific agnostic, has told me that "technology isn't all that they thought it would be." You're being sent out into a world where stuff is more important than people. There is constant change; there is nothing to hold on to. The only way to cope is to go with it. Things do change--we aren't all wearing cassocks, and women aren't going about in hoop skirts a la Gone with the Wind. You need to learn what legitimately changes, and what doesn't. Decide what you'll give your life for. My aunt gave up everything. You need a healthy sense of mourning.

Now to today's saint, Charles Lwanga. In Uganda in the 1880s, the king would use his attendents, and he was a sodomite. Charles and his companions refused the king's advances. So they can be called martyrs for chastity, for sexual morality.

In the world today there is so much depravity, so much misery. When I was driving a cab in Hawaii, I worked the overnight shift, and then we cabbies would go get breakfast together. Well one of these guys was a "kept boy". He asked me to take him to the airport one time, and on the way there he told me, "You're the only friend I've ever had." We went to breakfast together six times! Our was probably the only non-sexual relationship he had had for some time. So what is friendship in Christ? You must be men of love. Be a best friend to people. Be a man of liberation, of joy. You must be rooted in Jesus. Look to the loving relationship of Jesus and the apostles. They had intimacy because their relationship was non-sexual. We need the ability to be intimate. Beg the Holy Spirit to enter into your relationships. Bring the love of Jesus to your people. Bring love to people seduced by a counterfeit. The closest embrace knows no touch.