Sermons, hymns, meditations and other musings to guide our annual pilgrim's progress through the liturgical year.

Sunday, February 25, 2018



The Transfiguration of Our Lord is celebrated twice in the Church’s calendar, once on August 6th, and a second time today, the 2nd Sunday in Lent, known as Transfiguration Sunday.  It recalls an event that occurred in the life of our Lord shortly before the end of his life, and so it is fitting to commemorate it during our Lenten preparation for his Passion and Death.  The Transfiguration was, in fact, our Lord’s way of preparing his apostles for those terrible events, revealing to them that in spite of what they were about to see, all the blood and suffering of Good Friday, he was nevertheless the Son of God.  They were being encouraged to keep their faith in spite of the appearances of utter calamity that were about to befall them.

This is obviously significant for us in our own times, when the Church has been infiltrated by the legions of Satan, and has for all intents and purposes given up the faith.  Like the three apostles who were chosen by our Lord to witness this vision of Christ’s divinity, we have been chosen by the selfsame Son of God to keep the faith during these times in which it is his Mystical Body, the Church, that is suffering such distress.  Christ chose only three of his apostles to witness his glorious transfiguration, and today we also may seem like a relatively small group, as our brethren in the Church blithely go about their business, apparently unaware of the evil they have accepted in their bosom.  But the vision of the Transfiguration is held up for us today, that we too may behold the divinity of our Lord, and know that he is with us still in all his glory.  That glory is not as visible today – it remains hidden in the words of the Gospel, and then hidden in the form of bread and wine at Mass.  But behind each outward sign, there exists that hidden grace at all times, and today it is with the eyes of faith that we must behold the glory of the Lord, transfigured in the Gospel story.

Perhaps it is just as well that we aren’t permitted to actually witness Christ in his divinity.  The vision of our Lord transfixed in glory was almost too much for the three apostles to bear.  St. Peter barely knew what to say, and stammered out a few words about maybe building three tabernacles, or tents, one for our Lord, and one each for Moses and Elijah who had appeared on either side of him.  His words may sound like the idiotic mumblings of a man in shock, especially as our Lord did not even deign to make a response to his suggestion.  And yet, there is gold hidden in this rock of Peter.  For what were Moses and Elijah doing there at this vision?  We are told they were there to represent the law and the prophets.  And what did the law and the prophets have to do with the divine Saviour of mankind?  Simply this—the law of Moses represents morality, Catholic morals, by which we obey the laws of God, while Elijah, greatest of the prophets, represents the faith of the chosen people of God.  So we have Moses and Elijah, who stand for faith and morals, the two pillars of the Catholic Church, now standing on either side of our blessed Lord.

Which is the greatest of all the laws of God?  To love him.  To love him as he loves us.  To love him with all our heart and mind and soul.  And as our Lord himself told us, on this one commandment, that we must love God, depend all the laws and the prophets.  And so here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, stands our Lord Jesus Christ himself, , between his two supporters Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, standing in support of the personification of the divine Love.

Both Moses and Elijah had fasted for forty days and forty nights.  Moses first, when he climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, where God would give him the ten commandments.  He remained there for forty days and forty nights, fasting.  When he came down from the mountain, the Scriptures tell us his face was transfigured, and as it were horns of light shone forth from his head.  Just being in the presence of God on the mountain top had made him to be transfigured.  We’re very familiar with that story.  But less familiar is the story of Elijah.  He had been searching for God, trying to find his real presence.  He decided to go to Mount Horeb.  And why did he choose Mount Horeb?  Because Mount Horeb was another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses had received the Ten Commandments, and God had made his first covenant with man.  He wanted to ascend the very mountain where he knew Moses had found the real presence of God.  And he prepared by fasting for forty days and forty nights. 

When he arrives at the summit of Mount Horeb, God asks him: “What are you doing here?”  And Elijah pours out his troubles to God, complaining that even though he has done God’s work, everyone has turned their back on him, and he seems to be the only one left who still worships God correctly.  Sounds familiar to us traditional Catholics, doesn’t it?  And how does God answer Elijah?  How does he answer our own prayers today?  First he sends a powerful wind that threatens to tear the mountain apart.  But the wind isn’t God.  Then he sends an earthquake that shakes the very ground under Elijah’s feet.  But the earthquake isn’t God.  Then he sends fire, but even this great fire is not God.  So where is the God that Elijah seeks?  And then God comes to Elijah, not in wind or earthquake or fire, but in something much smaller and quieter.  Some translations of Scripture call it “a still, small voice”.  Some call it a gentle whisper.  One version of the Bible has a translation that calls it “the sound of sheer silence.”

If we honestly seek God, we should seek him here, in this silence.  We should find a quiet place to pray, and then listen to the still, small voice of God as he communicates with us.  So often we pray in our hustle and bustle, and then complain that God doesn’t answer.  It’s no accident that the new religion of Vatican II got rid of that sound of silence that we know so well in our Mass.  God may answer their prayers sometimes, but usually they can’t hear him for all the useless noise.  Listen to the silence at Mass today.  It is no coincidence that Moses and Elijah both climbed up to the quiet calm of a mountain top in order to find God.  But there they found him and they heard God’s answer to their prayers, Moses in the law and Elijah in prophesy.  Moses found a God who would transmit to him his first covenant with man.  Elijah found a God who gave him to understand that there would be a Messiah who would bring a new and everlasting covenant.  And today, when Christ himself climbs his own mountain, the apostles who come with him find that new and everlasting covenant in the person of Christ in all his divine splendor.

So when St. Peter blurts out that he and James and John should build three tents or tabernacles for these three figures who appear before them, there is more sense in his words than we at first realize.  Not that we should have three tabernacles in our chapel here, one for the old testament, one for the promise of the new testament, and one for the new testament itself.  The New Testament of Christ has replaced the faith of the old testament and it has replaced the hope of the prophets for the new testament with the realization of that hope.  A Catholic church has only one tabernacle and it is enough, because all that faith and all that hope depend on the love which is Christ in the New Testament.  And at the end of time, when heaven and earth shall pass away, faith shall be no more, and hope shall cease to exist.  There is no “faith” in heaven because we shall see God face to face.  There is no longer any need for “hope” in heaven, because our hope shall be realized.  But love will remain.  That one tabernacle, in which resides our Lord Jesus Christ, hidden perhaps under the species of bread and wine, but really present for us to love. 

When we come to the communion rail today, in our silence let us listen to the still, small voice of God as he reminds us that this is indeed his Son, in whom he is well pleased.



'Tis good, Lord, to be here,
Thy glory fills the nights;
Thy face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.

'Tis good, Lord, to be here,
Thy beauty to behold,
Where Moses and Elijah stand,
Thy messengers of old.

Fulfiller of the past,
Promise of things to be,
We hail thy body glorified,
And our redemption see.

Before we taste of death,
We see thy kingdom come;
We fain would hold the vision bright,
And make this hill our home.

‘Tis good, Lord, to be here,
Yet we may not remain;
But since thou bidst us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.

By J. Armitage Robinson, 1890

Sunday, February 18, 2018



Ashes will be distributed after Mass to those who were unable to receive them on Ash Wednesday.  It’s a familiar ceremony, one we go through every year, and so we may be tempted not to take too much notice of it.  That’s a pity, and let me tell you why.

It’s actually the equivalent of the Church hitting us between the eyes with a baseball bat.  It’s the strongest possible statement the Church can make to us, and that statement says “Wake up!”  Wake up, because we’re just drifting through life as though it will last forever.  We behave as though we have no immortal soul, that we act only to please ourselves, that those actions have no consequences.  We behave sometimes as though the law of God does not exist, or if it does exist, that we can ignore it whenever the urge is too strong, or whenever it becomes inconvenient.  We think we can sin at will, and then go to confession afterwards and say a few Hail Marys and go back to our self-centered lives.  Sound familiar?  Then wake up!

Reality is far, far different from this dream-world we have concocted for ourselves.  Reality is that there is a God, and that God has given us laws that must be obeyed.  Reality is that sin exists, that each sin is an infinite offence against God.  Reality is that hell exists, and that eternal punishment is ready and waiting for those who pretend that life is all about getting what we can out of it.  Our entire approach to life is “how much can I please “me”?, this “me” who is nothing but dust.  We’re so eager to gratify this dust, aren’t we!

So we get the call today to wake up.  Instead of hitting us between the eyes with a baseball bat, which is probably what we really deserve, the Church contents herself by gently placing a cross of dust between our eyes.  Keep your eyes on that dust today.  That’s all we are.  All those little pleasures we like to give ourselves, what are they really?  We’re just feeding the dust.  Let’s wake up and find our pleasure in giving pleasure to God, to others.  That’s why we fast during Lent.  That’s why we practice almsgiving.  That’s why our Lent should be filled with acts of kindness and penance, so that we might show that charity we learned about last week, that love of God and neighbor.

Not all pleasures are sinful, it’s true.  But let’s remember that all sins give pleasure.  All sins give us pleasure.  Think about it.  It’s true, isn’t it?  If sins didn’t provide us with some kind of pleasure, we wouldn’t be tempted to commit them.  Things are not wrong, however, because they give us pleasure.  Otherwise, all pleasure would be sinful, and obviously they are not.  Things are wrong because God forbids them.  And he forbids them because they offend him.

I can’t tell you that you’re somehow crazy or inherently evil because you want something that makes you feel good.  It’s natural.  Why do we fight so much, or gossip, or dress immodestly, or drink so much alcohol?  Because these things make us feel good.  We like to “let off steam” or get our own way by fighting and quarreling.  But God doesn’t want us to fight and quarrel, and so we mustn’t fight and quarrel.  Immodest clothes make us cooler in the hot weather, or less confined, or more attractive, or whatever.  It doesn’t matter why we do it, what matters is that God doesn’t want us to dress immodestly.  As for drinking alcohol to excess, this should be unthinkable during Lent.  Isn’t it after all a deliberate attempt to wallow in that fantasy dream-land of self-indulgence that we have created for ourselves?  To make us forget our troubles for a while or take the edge off our bad mood?  Yet, how can we think of deliberately entering into an alcohol-induced stupor when our Blessed Lord refused to drink from the sponge the soldier held up for him, the sponge soaked in myrrh that would alleviate some of his pain?  No, this is the time for penance, for depriving ourselves of pleasure.  Our Lord wanted to suffer pain, to freely accept that extra penance, because he wanted to show us how much he loved us.  So when we continue to chug back our martinis and our beers to get our daily buzz, what are we showing him in return?

Sinful pleasure is something we should avoid at all times of course.  But during Lent, we take it a step further, depriving ourselves of innocent pleasures.  Pleasures like that pain-dulling drink before dinner. Things that might be “okay” the rest of the year are not “okay” during Lent.  It’s why we’re not supposed to get married during Lent, why we shouldn’t have any unnecessary parties during Lent, why we shouldn’t drink alcohol during Lent, why we shouldn’t deliberately choose to indulge in any activity, to be honest, that gives us an inordinate amount of pleasure.  But of course, we’re human, and so, in our weakness, we are realistic enough to know we can’t give up every single pleasure in life.  We’re asked to give up what as much as we can.  In other words, it’s up to us.  Beyond the fasting laws it’s all optional.  It’s all up to our “free will.”

So how much can I give up?  How much will I give up?  Will.  It’s all about the will.  Free will.  I will decide.  And how do I decide.  Well, we start by asking ourselves how much we love God? How much do I want to give up, freely, to show God that he is more important to me than my own vain pleasures?  If I don’t give up very much for Lent, is that a sin?  No, because it is truly of our own free will that we choose to give it up.  God is not offended that we can’t give up more than we do.  Let’s just say he’s disappointed in the lukewarmness of our love for him.  Think of his love for us, after all.   How did our Lord limit himself in showing us his love for us?  Of his own free will, he offered all the bitter pain of his Passion for us, as he freely gave up his life.  For us!  “Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi?”  What can I give back to God for all that he hath given unto me?  Am I really going to draw a line in the sand and refuse to go further?

This past week, a young parishioner of St. Therese’s Chapel down in Lebanon was killed in an automobile accident, and again I would ask you to pray for his soul and for his poor family.  His parents have been asked by God to give up their son.  Admittedly, this was not by their own free choosing.  But now that this tragic accident has happened, God asks this distraught mother and father to surrender their will to God, and, by their free will, accept God’s will.  I have known mothers in the past who have lost a child in an accident, and who have cursed God for taking away their child.  It happens, grief like theirs must be a terrible thing, and we cannot condemn them for their reaction.  But where is such a mother’s faith in God, her hope of the resurrection, her love of God above all things, all creatures, no matter how close they may be? 

What is God asking of us this Lent?  Hopefully not as much as he has asked of that poor family from St. Therese’s.  But he does ask for some sign of love from our lukewarm hearts, hearts that are so reluctant to part with even the smallest of pleasure.  Is your heart lukewarm?  Take a good, hard look at the Crucifix.  Or maybe it’s time to watch the movie of The Passion again?  For now, take a look in the mirror now and again today.  What expression do you see on your face?  Is it so very smug as to ignore what Christ has done for us and to ignore his call to penance?  Is it so hardened that we refuse God what he asks for?  Is it so smooth with self-gratification that we tell our Lord we “can’t” give up this or that for the forty days of Lent? 

Or will that black cross of ash between our eyes remind us what we truly are, what we’re truly worth?  Dust yes.  But dust in the shape of a cross, the symbol of Christ’s love for us, his beloved creatures of dust for whom he died.  We are worth something after all, so let’s rise from our stupor and, with generosity, be all we can be.