The Gospel today is a long one and so, instructive in the ability of Jesus to read the hearts of those He ministers to. It is no surprise that in every situation where a human heart is sincerely looking for help, the Lord does so with amazing detail and precision. A woman comes to the well looking for water. There is much on her mind. She is at a pivotal moment in her life. Her life is burdened with many things and her life complicated, as we see, especially with regards to her marital life. Jesus sees this as the amazing and tragic reality of her life, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”
Seeing that she is at a cross-roads, the Lord takes advantage of this graced moment when in her confusion she is for perhaps the first time able to listen, able to take advice, able to make a change in her life. Christ breaks all the conventions of His society not because he is concerned about cultural inequality but because too much is at stake for Him not to. Reading her heart, He says to her, “Give me a drink.” She, not realizing that Heaven is literally knocking on her door responds on a natural level, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
She is puzzled that the man asking her for water doesn’t even have his own bucket. But this is not Jesus’ true intention. He is not looking for water, He is looking for her. By the end of their conversation, she will understand and become His follower. It would seem that the woman’s conversion is built upon Christ’s ability to read her heart, to “know her”, that is the deep secrets of her heart, her anxieties, her questions, her fears.
It is here that Christ is exorcising his role as prophet. He foretells a day when God’s people, true worshipers, will no longer adore the Lord on a sacred mountain but in spirit and truth. This is the reality of today where a believer prays and adores God in a church, in the mountains, in his room. A prophet is one who foretells the future in a way that cannot be explained except through the supernatural. A prophet is also one who can divine the present, reveal the truth of today, wake us up from our sleep to see the truth around us. The balance of today’s Gospel shows how the Lord spoke the prophetic present to the woman at the well.
Our bishops are speaking a prophetic truth that is about today as much as it is about tomorrow. To speak against the recent move of the President’s administration to curb the rights of believers is not being political. This has to do with the life and rights of the Church and by extension all religious believers. If the President has committed himself to a national moral life that is at odds with the Church this needs to be recognized and not ignored by us. I would like to quote some thoughts from Cardinal George of Chicago:
“Why does a governmental administrative decision now mean the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education? Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.
So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.
What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.
In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.
Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.
Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.
Since 1915, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taught that basic health care should be accessible to all in a just society. Two years ago, we asked that whatever instruments were crafted to care for all, the Hyde and Weldon and Church amendments restricting funding for abortion and respecting institutional conscience continue to be incorporated into law. They were excluded. As well, the present health care reform act doesn’t cover entire sections of the U.S. population. It is not universal.
The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.
The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.
The observance of Lent reminds us that, in the end, we all stand before Christ and give an accounting of our lives. From that perspective, I ask lay Catholics and others of good will to step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past. The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.”
Cardinal George is right. Its interesting that when Henry VIII attacked the Catholic faith in England he started first with the bishops. He separated the Magisterium from the university theologians and hospital care. The king went first to the universities and encouraged a free thinking opposed to the direction of the bishops and the Pope in Rome. The king then devastated the monasteries, the backbone of healthcare in England. The bishops were then cut off, bullied, and threatened with imprisonment. All caved in except the one, St. John Fisher who though gaining the crown of sainthood had to have his head cut off to do it.
Our bishops are also being isolated from our universities and hospitals. Our bishops are being bullied in television and print media. We must look carefully at present affairs in the US. Stand with our bishops. We must oppose the President and the Administration in this and regain what we will most certainly lose if we remain silent: our religious freedom.
The following is the homily that was preached by Archbishop Oscar Rizzato at our parish during his visit this summer on August 5th at the 9am Mass. The Archbishop is a retired member of the Vatican. He served under many popes and ended his service as Almoner to the Holy Father Benedict. We were blessed to have him once more with us.
Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday of the Liturgical Year.
I extend a cordial greeting to you all, especially to Father Richard and the pastor Father Alfredo, who unfortunately cannot be here today. I had the opportunity and the joy of celebrating Mass for you at this church five years ago. I am, once again, visiting the Ben Olia family in Villa Park. Since I do not know English, I did not think I would be celebrating Mass here again, as last time. However I discovered that my celebration of the Eucharist had already been scheduled and announced. Today we celebrate the eighteenth Sunday of the year, and the Word of God is particularly significant. This year our Sunday readings are from the Gospel of St. Mark, but last Sunday we had a reading for the feast of St. John. On July 15, in Chapter 6 of St. Mark, we learned that Jesus had sent the apostles to preach the Gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons; on the 22nd, we read that the apostles had returned to report what they had done and taught.
Jesus then “took them aside with him” to lonely place for a little rest. But when they got off the boat, they found a large crowd waiting for them, and Jesus “had compassion” on them because they were like sheep without a Shepherd.
And he immediately began to teach them many things. Because it was late the people would not leave, St. Mark, like the other evangelists, says that Jesus felt the need to feed them through the miracle of the loaves. But as you heard last Sunday, instead of St. Mark's description we were given a more expressive and detailed report in Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, which we continue today. After feeding the crowds with the multiplication of five loaves and two fish provided by a boy, Jesus, realizing that they were coming for him to make him king, retires again to the mountain alone. He later joins the apostles who were already on the boat, and together with them he goes to Capernaum, a city located on the opposite bank of the lake. Here, as I mentioned at the beginning of today's Gospel, the crowd that had gone looking for him found him, and we have the wonderful dialogue that we have just heard.
At this point we should not just limit ourselves to listening to the story, but try to identify ourselves with it. Let us imagine ourselves present in that place, or that Jesus is here among us, in person, in this church. And he directs these words to us. It is exactly so; he speaks to each of us and does it very clearly. Thus, we do not need much explanation. Like those people, we, too, often look for him because of personal interests and he can say to us, as well: You are here "because you ate the loaves and were you satisfied", but you have not understood the signs; that is, the meaning of the miracle. This call is also directed to us now: this is 'the will' of God that you believe in me, who has been sent by God to reveal his immense love and to bring salvation. And so my first suggestion: let us look at our faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior. This coming October 11th is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Second Vatican Council convened by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed by the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, December 8, 1965. The current Vicar of Christ
Benedict XVI initiates the YEAR of Faith in commemoration of this important event, as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Universal Church. But it is mainly for the purpose of helping many Christians to rediscover the faith they have lost, or to defend and strengthen the one they still have and remains in their hearts, but a faith that is often doubtful, weak, inconsistent and inactive. Perhaps, this is the case for many of us, so let us prepare ourselves to live the Year of Faith with great intensity. Faith is a gift from God, and it was infused in us at Baptism with the other two theological virtues, hope and charity. We ask Jesus to help us preserve it, to make it grow and to make us witnesses of it.
A second point for reflection and prayer is the life offered us by the second part of the Gospel. Although they had assisted at the miracle of the loaves and enjoyed it, the followers of Jesus call for a sign. In the desert our fathers ate the “manna” promised by Moses, "the bread of heaven." And what sign do you give, that we may see and believe?
Explaining that the manna given by Moses was not the bread of heaven, Jesus emphatically declares that God, his Father, is the one who gives "the true bread of heaven", and that the bread of God is he who descends from heaven and gives life to the world. Then, as was the case with the Samaritan woman, when Jesus promised "living water", they said, "Lord, give us this bread always." He responds with a marvelous statement that is now directed to us as well, "I am the bread of life, who comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." These words begin a long discourse found in Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, that we will hear in the coming Sundays.
Jesus presents the Eucharist and says that to have eternal life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. He thus incites the reaction and the refusal of his own disciples who. Shocked by this statement, they leave him. He then asks the apostles if they too want to abandon him. And Peter answers him: "Lord to whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life." We are invited, here and now, to personally verify our faith in the Holy Eucharist, the great mystery and miracle that we celebrate at this moment in the Holy Mass. We all partake in the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism. Even at this Mass, he changes the bread into his Body and the wine into his blood and invites us to be nourished him. We then ask ourselves what our attitude and behavior regarding the Sacrament of the Eucharist, where Jesus renews the paschal sacrifice of his death and resurrection, and is truly present under the species or appearances of bread and wine to nourish us, to be with us, to make us one in him and with him. We go now from this church with this certainty and with the intention to grow and learn even more about our faith and devotion to Jesus. He listens to us and helps us.
Praised be Jesus' Christ.
What made Abraham so great? It was his faith. We hear in the first reading how he was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac in an effort to be obedient to God’s will. He was blessed for it and became the father of a great nation because of it.
Jesus was obedient to the Father even to death, death on the cross. “Not my will, but your will be done.” Jesus’ sacrifice and obedience to the death would bring about the blessing of the Resurrection and therefore initiate the beauty and glory of the new creation, a beauty and glory that were revealed to Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration which we heard about today.
Obedience to God requires at the same time sacrifice and faith. Sacrifice of our own will and faith in God. Faith is a trust in God, that He in fact loves us and has our best interest at stake. Abraham and Jesus had this kind of faith and beautiful things happened. On the other hand, Adam and Eve and the fallen angels did not have this faith or confidence in God and disaster was the result and for the angels eternally lost and for Adam and Eve, we hope they repented. Disobedience to God is never without consequence.
Where do we stand in the continuum of obedience, faith and sacrifice? If faith is weak, so is obedience and the sacrifice is not made. What sacrifice? A reality and truth beyond ourselves worth making the effort, paying the price, even dying for.
Faith is not an all or nothing prospect. It does have the possibility of movement in either direction. We see eleven of Jesus’ apostles grow in faith to the point of absolute obedience to the Master and most sacrificing their lives for Him. We see one apostle fall from faith and end in disaster, completely lost.
Where is our faith going? It is not a static reality. It is either becoming more obedient to the Master or less so; more willing to sacrifice or less so. As our culture becomes increasingly God-less and faithless in its outlook, it becomes more difficult to be an “anonymous Christian”.
It’s hard to just blend in; we may even be called out. “Hey, you area a Catholic. What do you think about abortion, contraception, gay marriage”? Perhaps we squirm and do what Peter did when confronted, “I tell you I don’t know the man.” It was too uncomfortable for Peter to acknowledge the fact he was a follower of Christ, so he slipped into denial. Peter later regrets this denial and is reconciled with the Master.
Many Catholics, including most Catholic politicians, have taken the, “I follow my conscience” route, which means that the Church may hold and teach certain things, but I am going to do what is most expectant and follow my conscience. True, we are to follow our conscience; however it must be an informed conscience. An informed conscience seeks the truth and endeavors to uphold and understand the moral law and use one’s conscience to apply it to particular situations with prudence. Outright denial of the moral law and therefore calling into questioning the Church’s moral competency is not an option for “following one’s conscience” The Church’s moral teaching on marriage, contraception, and human life, especially the unborn are derived from the Lord, Sacred Scripture and 2,ooo years of constant and unchanged moral teaching by the Holy Spirit. This approach of “following one conscience” contrary to the established moral law is simple not honest and hypocrisy. Jesus came as a “sign of contradiction”. He didn’t come to make the political establishment feel comfortable. Jesus came to speak the truth, the truth about mankind and his salvation. If Pope Paul VI were looking for friends and ways to please his contemporaries in 1986, he would have thrown the Encyclical Humane Vitae in the trash can. He did not, he could not, and he had to be faithful to Christ and the truth about marriage. When almost all of the Protestant denominations, public opinion and governments had caved in on contraception, he, as vicar for Christ, said “no” –artificial birth control/contraception is not good for marriage, family and society. What he said would happen if contraception were widely accepted in fact happened: martial infidelity, a general lowering of moral standards, lack of reverence due to women, and women treated as objects of pleasure.
Paul VI however had no idea the avalanche of dissent and hostility “Human Vitae” would create in 1968 which carried well into the 70’s and really until his death in 1978. It was a heavy cross and he suffered greatly. Everybody was waiting for him to die so the next Pope would surely and naturally remove the scourge of “Humane Vitae” and get with the times. The next Pope was Pope John Paul II, after a brief 30 day reign of Pope John Paul I. Not only did Pope John Paul II support and affirm “Humane Vitae”, he went on to give the Church the beautiful “Theology of the Body”, which using “Humane Vitae” as a starting point, launched into a whole biblical reflection on what it means to be created as male and female and the meaning of marriage. Then people were waiting for Pope John Paul II to die so we could finally get a Pope to say contraception is ok, this is embarrassing especially when it is constantly reported that most Catholics do not follow the Church’s teaching on marriage and contraception. And then we get Pope Benedict XVI, and it doesn’t look like he is going to change either. It doesn’t matter who is Pope, it is the Holy Spirit who is protecting this important moral teaching about the dignity, sanctity and ends of marriage. Do we expect anything less from the Church that was founded by Jesus Christ? Do we really want a Faith with out content or a “feel good religion” or a religion where morality is a democratic process? Jesus said it would not be easy and His Church would be persecuted. Jesus warned His disciples, “As they persecuted me, so they will persecute you.”
Presently, contraception has come into the public debate in response to the government’s decision that Catholic institutions must pay for contraception as part of the health care for their employees. The Bishops of the United States have reacted very negatively to this mandate. The whole issue has come into the forefront because the Catholic Church does have a particular stance on marriage. The politics of what is happening aside, this is an excellent opportunity to examine what the Church teaches and why. The Church stands as an advocate for the well-being and happiness of marriage, family and society and the protector of the Natural Law and morality. Do we put our trust in the U.S. Government to protect marriage and family? “Humane Vitae” is a good place to start and understand Church teaching and there is a lot of material out there now on Blessed John Paul II’s Theology of the Body which is a beautiful explanation of purity, chastity, marriage and true love. Christopher West has done a lot of work on this. I do not know what will happen as the U. S. Government faces off with the Catholic Church, it is not the first nor will it be the last, but I hope Catholics can use these opportunities to not be afraid to get to know, love and embrace the beauty and truth contained in the totality of our Catholic faith and teaching, and not just sell out to the opinion of the day. Our Faith deserves more.
Our Faith, if we want it to grow and be vibrant, should impel us to want to know and be more obedient. Abraham’s faith moved him to be obedient, Jesus’ faith and trust in the Father moved Him to obedience. And their obedience was not without sacrifice. But that sacrifice brought much blessings and goodness and beauty and ultimately brought salvation. Our Faith, coupled with obedience and sacrifice also has the power to bring about much good and beauty, and ultimately our salvation, and that of others depends upon it.
Saint Leo the Great says: “If then we are steadfast in our faith in Him and in our love for Him, we will win the victory that He has won for us, we will receive what He has promised, when it comes to obeying the commandments or enduring adversity, the words uttered by the Father, should always echo in our ears: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am will pleased, listen to Him”.