Saint John Paul the Great and the Universal Call to Holiness

According to Saint John Paul II, holiness isn’t simply one option among many; it is the essence of being Catholic. Living a holy life has little to do with perfection. It is a lifelong process of seeking God, through Christ. To be Catholic is to be called to holiness. Holiness can be summed up in one word – love. Christ calls his disciples to authentic love – love of God and love of neighbor.

Saying this is one thing. Living it is another. We might think that holiness is the stuff of priests and nuns. We might think of living a holier life as something we will do tomorrow or sometime in the future. This is wrong. Sacred Scripture tells us the time to be holy is now!

1. The spiritual journey is entirely dependent on God.

It is a gift God gives us. It is a grace. Going to Mass doesn’t make us holy. Neither does saying a million rosaries. God sustains us in life – in everything we do. We are entirely dependent on his mercy.

2. Our effort is necessary.

What we can do to place ourselves in the presence of Christ we should do. Daily prayer is essential. Reading the scriptures is another key that unlocks the doors to eternity. God loves us abundantly. God knows us completely. Everything we say and do should be a response to that Love.

3. There are painful dimensions to the path toward holiness.

We’re all familiar with the expression “no pain no gain.” Expelling sin from our lives can be difficult even painful. Expanding our hearts, minds, and souls takes work. Letting go of lesser cares and filling us up with God’s love can be a challenge. The temptation may be to put off the heavy lifting until later.

4. Despite its painful dimensions, the journey toward holiness is worth it.

To find the pearl of great price we must get rid of the junk in our lives. Many things can distract us from falling in love with God. Faithfulness means letting go of vanity, temptations and selfishness.  In the Gospels, a rich, young man asked Jesus how to gain eternal life.  Jesus told him to obey the commandments. The young man replied, “All of these I have observed. What do I lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Scripture records the young man went away sad - for he had many possessions. Everything in this world is passing away. Heaven, eternal beatitude, is a joy beyond our understanding – and it is forever. St. Paul testifies to this reality in 2 Corinthians Chapter 4; “For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Whatever our difficulties, holiness is worth the journey.

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, February 22, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ tempted by Satan
(Click here for today’s readings)

Years ago I saw a little cartoon showing a classic long-bearded, robed prophet with a big sign reading “REPENT!*” The asterisk referred to a note at the bottom of the sign: “*If you have already repented, please disregard this notice.”

John the Baptist, we were told earlier in this first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, preached a “gospel of repentance.” Now that John is out of the picture, Jesus appears, almost like an understudy filling in for an absent performer. The message is the same: “Repent!” And yet there is a difference. Not only do we usually visualize John and Jesus as in some way quite unlike each other, but we sense, at least, a certain dissimilarity in their message.

John’s call to repentance was in view of preparing for Jesus, whose coming was imminent. Jesus’ call to repentance is in view of preparing for the Kingdom of God, which is “at hand.”

The word “repent” implies two elements. One is regret. For example, we repent behaviors by which we have hurt someone we care about, whether we did so deliberately or thoughtlessly. The other element is change, taking the form at least of a firm resolve to avoid such behaviors for the future. Neither one alone is repentance. Regret without resolve changes nothing; resolve without regret lacks motivation.

The goal is expressed in an odd turn of phrase in our second reading, from the first Letter of St. Peter. Speaking of baptism, the ritual sign of repentance, he writes that it is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience.” Can we actually ask God to give us a clear conscience, if we don’t already have one?

One way of understanding this is that we can ask God, “Could we start again, please?” That is the point of the rainbow, after all. God and humanity and creation are all starting over. That is also the point of Lent—a new beginning or, better, another (or: yet another) new beginning; a truly new beginning, since we ourselves are different each year, and we need this Lent in a way we have not needed Lent before.

Let’s look at repentance from six points of view: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

The Who of repentance is you (that includes me). You need to change, though maybe not entirely. What in yourself do you need to turn away from, what image of yourself do you need to turn toward?

The What is whatever behaviors or attitudes you know you need to avoid, or cultivate.

The When involves our use of time, turning away from wasting time, turning toward the “time of fulfillment.”

The Where concerns circumstances, often called “occasions of sin,” which we turn away from. At the same time we can turn towards what we might call “occasions of grace,” or “occasions of life.”

How? That’s up to you. You know better than I do what might best help you along the path of repentance. But do not neglect the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Why? St. Peter gives an excellent reason: “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” If we are not led to God, then Christ suffered for us in vain. What would be the point?

Jesus also gives a reason: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” In that context “repent” still means “regret and resolve,” but we may add one more element: “in hope.” There is something wonderful to hope for if our repentance is genuine. The kingdom of God is a beautiful prospect, well worth repenting for.

Ash Wednesday 2015: Twenty-Five Ways to Live the Lenten Season

Lent is a time of enormous grace and spiritual renewal. It is a season of solemnity and sacrifice commemorating Christ’s exodus into the desert; our sacrifice is a reminder of the self-sacrifice Jesus made to save us from our sins. The three main components to Lenten observance are: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  I have taken Father Michael Najim’s original “25 ways to live the Lenten season,” and added/subtracted a few ways. They are in no particular order. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. At the end of the article are additional Lenten resources for your consideration. May your Lent be fruitful, prayerful, and grace filled!

1) Read Sacred Scripture

2) Read a spiritual book for ten minutes

3) Spend ten minutes in silence

4) Pray the rosary

5) Pray the Way of the Cross

6) Say the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Friday during Lent at 3:00 PM (the hour of Divine Mercy)

7) Attend daily Mass or go once or twice during the week besides Sunday

8) Put aside $1-$2 a day and give it to charity at the end of Lent

9) Give up desserts

10). Go to Confession

11) Give up alcohol

12) Give up or cut down on coffee or tea

13) Give up bread

14) Wake up earlier than usual

15) Go to bed earlier than usual

16) Give up or spend less time online, especially social networking sites

17) Give up or cut down on television

18) Take time for self-examination and reflection

19) Cut down on the number of times a day you check email

20) Fast on Fridays if your health allows (one meal or just bread and water)

21) In addition to sacrificing, add something to your Lenten routine.

22) Volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or another place that is committed to serving the poor, addicted, or abused.

23) Remain calm when driving

24) Simplify your life: each week go through your closets and drawers and get rid of clothes and give them to the needy; each week get rid of books and find a place to give them away

25) Begin and end your day on your knees

Lenten Resources:

The Church's official position concerning penance and abstinence from meat during Lent

Video: What are the Practices of Lent? Fr. Robert Barron – Word on Fire 

Lenten Reflection by Fr. James Kubicki

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 15, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ heals a leper
(Click here for today’s readings)

It’s flu season. In many parishes the distribution of Communion under both species is discontinued until further notice, and people are encouraged to offer the Sign of Peace with a nod rather than a handshake. If you have the flu, you are expected to stay home rather than risk infecting people around you.

You have heard the recent serious concerns about measles, and the controversy surrounding parents who decided not to have their children immunized. Before that it was Ebola. Before that it was AIDS.

A sixty-five-year-old woman in India lives in a hut outside her village, and hasn’t had a visitor in at least 22 years. She has leprosy. People are afraid, even though they have been assured the disease is not communicable. Fear trumps science. In some parts of India leprosy is accepted as valid grounds for divorce — this in the country with the lowest divorce rate in the world! The woman is also considered “ritually impure,” and is excluded from the temples.

So we can understand the situation described in today’s Gospel, both from the point of view of the people’s fear of contagion and from the leper’s isolation from society. This explains why lepers have often tended to live in colonies, like the Island of Molokai.

In the Old Testament there were many ways to become unclean, which is not at all the same as being dirty. For example, if a member of the family died, whoever touched the body became unclean. In most cases you simply waited till evening and then you were clean again. Sometimes you had to wash your clothes, as well, and occasionally you had to take a bath. But you would always be clean once evening fell. Meanwhile, in Numbers 19 we read, “Anything that the unclean person touches becomes unclean itself, and the one who touches such a person becomes unclean until evening.”

There were a couple of notable exceptions. Leprosy was one; as long as it lasted, you were unclean. If it cleared up, you went to the priest who would verify that you were in fact healed. Then you would offer a sacrifice to God — a sign that you were fully reinstated. That’s what Jesus told the leper to do.

But Jesus didn’t just heal the leper. He touched him! He touched an untouchable person, reaching out to him. No one, not even the leper, could have expected that.

That gesture is normative. The famous Fr. Damien, now St. Damien, followed that example literally on the Island of Molokai. Missionaries in many countries have built leprosy clinics, where lepers are treated with medicines, and shown respect.

But the gesture is normative for us all. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Christians of Corinth to avoid giving offense. In context it is a little like the medical principle, “First do no harm.” He also indicates by his own behavior that Christians ought not to seek their own personal benefit but that of the many.

This doesn’t mean we should go around shaking hands with flu victims, or that Christian nurses should cast off their protective gear when treating infectious patients. We can’t all be a Fr. Damien.

But we do need to abide by St. Paul’s principle: “Do everything for the glory of God.” How? There are many ways, of course. Among them is treating all persons with respect, and then doing whatever, in our heart of hearts, we know we are personally called to do for others.

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 8, 2015, Year B

Fr. Butler is away preaching on special assignment. I submit to you Fr. Charles Irvin's homily on Jesus, Job and the value of our suffering: 

Peter and his mother-in-law
Fr. Charles Irvin

Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” One such person comes to us this morning in today’s first reading. He name is Job. I’m sure most of you are familiar with his story that comes to us from the Old Testament.

We enter his story today finding Job as a successful businessman, enjoying good health, some considerable wealth, at the peak of happiness, surrounded by a loving family, and married to a good wife.

But good fortune is like the wind. Suddenly everything changes. Savage bandits slaughter his servants and steal his flocks. A dreadful desert storm takes the lives of all his children. Under terrible pressure and stress his health fails and his entire body is covered with painful sores, the physical consequences, no doubt, of unendurable inner pain. In the end, his beloved wife tells him to “curse God and die.” And the reaction of his friends? “Well,” they tell him, “God is punishing you for some horrible secret sins in your life.”  We hear similar judgments in our own day when misfortune befalls people.

But while most of us have not suffered to the extent Job suffered (although I’ve known some who have), most of us have experienced what was sent forth in today’s first reading -- never-ending sleepless nights filled with fear, anxiety, guilt, and self-punishment. Some have felt tempted to literally curse God and die. Many have cursed the Church and died.

And then there are the days that follow those nights… long, long days filled with drudgery, pain, and hopelessness, days that arrive one after another without end. Some of you here this morning see nothing but those days and nights stretching out endlessly ahead of you.

There’s something special about a man or woman who has been born into great wealth, suffered the loss of it all, and then rebuilt his or her life back up again from nothing. I knew such a person – he was my father. He was a man acquainted with the task of facing life without hope of ever returning to his original comfortable state in life.

Then there’s the loss through sudden death of people whom we love and care for, or loss through lingering illness followed finally by a merciful death. I’m not sure which is more painful, sudden loss of life or loss through long, lingering, and slow diminishments ending in a final death by exhaustion. Those of you acquainted with Alzheimer’s disease know what I am talking about.

Many who have greatly suffered have likewise faced the temptation to curse heaven, blame God, and then resolve to die in nothingness. Living life over the long haul while carrying a load of hidden pain and loss that few realize is a daunting challenge to faith. The temptation to blame God and then stoically endure death is a very real temptation for many people you and I have known.

Finally there was Job’s wife, the woman he lived with and loved through- out his entire ordeal. In the end he suffered a pain worse than being impoverished, suffering terrible losses, and then finally turning into a physical wreck covered with sores. The one he trusted, loved, and depended upon, the one he cherished, walked out on him while advising him to “curse God and die.” That’s polite biblical language covering over what she was really saying: “Go to hell, Job!”

To read this homily in full go here. 

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 1, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ casting out demons

At the end of this Gospel passage it would appear that Jesus is now poised to embark on a great career. He is rapidly becoming a celebrity.

There are lots and lots of famous people in the world, from the international to the local scene, in every field you can imagine. A few, commonly called “personalities,” may simply be “famous for being famous.” Most have caught people’s attention by doing something never (or rarely) done before (like medical miracles, sports records, technology, etc.), or by doing something in a totally new, interesting or exciting way (as in literature, music, and the arts in general).

It also helps to be in the right place at the right time and to be noticed by the right people. But you still have to be the “right person” with the “right stuff.” Then you can make a big impression, and have people “astonished” and “amazed,” as we read in the Gospel.

Fame, of course, comes and goes. Persons and things popular in one generation are ignored or even mocked in the next. Yesterday’s stars are often today’s has-beens; how many child actors, for example, have a great career in their adult life? We are more likely to see them on a “Where are They Now?” segment on the news.

Jesus, then, is poised to become a Superstar. You may remember the controversy surrounding the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, sparked in particular by a comment attributed to lyricist Tim Rice: "It happens that we don't see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Therein, precisely, lies the problem of seeing Jesus as a Superstar.

What’s missing? Faith.

No one in today’s Gospel story expresses faith in Jesus. People express astonishment at the authority with which he teaches. They are amazed at his power to cast out an unclean spirit. But that’s all, so far at least. Not even the unclean spirit has faith; it already knows who Jesus is.

Fame and faith are very different things. I may be astonished and amazed at a magician’s tricks, but the only faith I place in him is in his ability to trick people. I may be astonished and amazed at a politician’s oratorical skills, but I might have faith only in his ability to persuade.

But only faith makes sense of the whole life and ministry of Jesus. Only faith makes sense of St. Paul’s recommendation that it would be better not to marry, just as only faith makes sense of the vow of celibacy in Religious Life and Priesthood. Otherwise, why would anyone make such an astonishing choice?

Only faith recognizes the prophet not only as an astonishing speaker and amazing wonder-worker, but also as an astonishing and amazing man of God.

Look at the saints. Some were astonishing and amazing nuns and monks hidden away in their cloisters, with a vow of silence. Others were astonishing and amazing advocates and servants of the poor, speaking out in the cause of justice and peace.

Many such contrasts could be drawn. They have only one thing in common, and that is faith. Everything else in a saint’s life flows from that relationship with the Lord.

Fame is not a bad start. The danger of fame, however, is that it can lead us to place our faith in ourselves, and that is a kind of hardening of the heart. Once we have people’s attention, it can be really hard to remember that it’s not about us!

In another place Jesus tells us to let our light shine. The challenge is to help people see where that light really comes from, that it isn’t really our light at all.

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 25, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ calling Simon Peter
(Click here for today’s readings)

All three readings today contain a proclamation.

Jonah: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.“ St. Paul: “The time is running out.” Jesus: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

The kingdom of God is a major recurring theme in the New Testament, making its appearance well over fifty times. Its equivalent, “the kingdom of heaven,” occurs over thirty times. There are several other variants as well, such as: “Of his kingdom there shall be no end,” near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and, near the end of the same Gospel: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

A very famous instance, of course, is in the Our Father, where Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” We might ask ourselves two questions. 1) What does this petition in the Lord’s Prayer mean in general? 2) What does it mean to me, to each of us? (There is presumably some overlap in the two responses.)

St. Jerome, who died in the year 420, wrote of this part of the Our Father that, “Either it is a general prayer for the kingdom of the whole world that the reign of the Devil may cease; or for the kingdom in each of us that God may reign there, and that sin may not reign in our mortal body.”

St. Augustine, a contemporary of St. Jerome, wrote a letter to a woman named Proba, in which he stated: “As for our saying: ‘Your kingdom come,’ it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.”

In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, St. Augustine expanded further. “Just as the Lord Himself teaches in the Gospel that the day of judgment will take place at the very time when the gospel shall have been preached among all nations, ... here also the expressionYour kingdom come’ is not used in such a way as if God were not now reigning. ‘Come,’ therefore, is to be understood in the sense of manifested. For in the same way also as a light which is present is absent to the blind, and to those who shut their eyes; so the kingdom of God, though it never departs from the earth, is yet absent to those who are ignorant of it.”

At the conclusion of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it might not be inappropriate to quote the Reformer, John Calvin, who in the 1500s wrote: “The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word,—would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.”

So much for the scholars. What about us?

The response is not so different, really, but another, more personal element enters in. To pray “Thy kingdom come” could easily represent a passive stance, simply calling on God for the kingdom to come to me/us, or happen around me/us, while sitting back and waiting for God to do something.

But in fact this prayer comes back to us as an echo. It is a call for commitment, involvement, a change in our way of life. This is summed up in the other parts of Jesus’ opening proclamation.

“Repent!” he says. It’s not just for Lent any more.

“Believe in the gospel (= good news).” Really and truly believe, not just intellectually (“Yeah, that makes sense”), not just emotionally (“Jesus’ teaching is so beautiful”), but in our life, practically. I think this is what St. Paul means when he tells us to live as though things were not as they are, because the world as we know it is passing away, and we will inherit the Kingdom.

“Thy kingdom come,” applies also and especially to relationships: even with enemies, rejects, the poor, etc. No one is excluded.

If that’s the kingdom we really want, then let’s pray for it—and work for it— with all our heart.

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 18, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Well, that was quick! In under twelve hours Andrew and his companion had decided that the man they had just met was the Messiah!

No one knows what they talked about, so we may give free rein to our imagination.
Maybe they discussed Jesus’ vision of a world of peace and justice and of outreach to the poor. We have seen in our own time that this is one of the most attractive features of Pope Francis. Why not something like that in this case?

Or they might have had a free-ranging conversation on the Scriptures in general. They did call him “Rabbi,” after all. Or maybe such an exchange might have been more like the one Jesus would have three years later, after his Resurrection, with two other disciples, on the road to Emmaus when, we are told: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to himself in all the scriptures.”

The most obvious but, I think, least likely scenario would be this:

     Disciple: “Excuse me, Rabbi, but why did John call you Lamb of God?”
     Jesus: “Oh, that. It means I’m the Messiah.”

Now the scene that follows is absolutely typical of the first centuries of the Church. Andrew can’t wait to tell his brother Simon about this man he has met. Shortly afterward, another disciple, Philip, invites his friend Nathanael to come and see this Jesus, of whom he says, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets.” And so the Christian community began to grow, by word of mouth. It’s easy to imagine people saying to their relatives and friends, “You gotta hear this guy!” (Evangelicals typically do so to this day, the same way people who visit a Shrine might say to their friends, “You gotta see this place.”)

Whatever Jesus said that day to just two disciples led to his saying other things to more disciples, having more encounters. Some of these encounters were friendly—with the sick he healed, the outcasts he included, the sinners to whom he said, “sin no more,” a saying that finds its echo in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Other encounters were unfriendly—with the scribes and Pharisees who challenged him at every turn, not to mention the demons he cast out.

And so the Community of Believers, the Church, continued to grow as more and more persons became disciples of Jesus the Messiah, and invited others to join them.

What is the ideal attitude of a disciple toward the “Rabbi” or “Teacher” or “Master”? We find it stated in all simplicity in the story of Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Disciples need to know, and want to know, what the Lord has to say to them.

Disciples need to know, and want to know, what the Master expects of them. The answer the young Samuel received must have caught him completely off guard. The story goes on as follows:

The Lord said to Samuel: “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it ring. On that day I will carry out against Eli everything I have said about his house, beginning to end. I announce to him that I am condemning his house once and for all, because of this crime: though he knew his sons were blaspheming God, he did not reprove them. Therefore, I swear to Eli’s house: No sacrifice or offering will ever expiate its crime.” Samuel then slept until morning, when he got up early and opened the doors of the temple of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision... Eli answered, “It is the Lord. What is pleasing in the Lord’s sight, the Lord will do.”

Above all, disciples need to know, and want to know, that the Lord is with us, walking at our side. How else could someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. have accomplished what he did? How else would any of us ever have the courage to follow the Lord in a world that often feels no need for him, to speak his word in a world often hostile to him and to us, and to live the Christian and Catholic way of life in a world that often holds it up to ridicule?

I conclude with a short poem (by Helen Parker), that seems to me to sum up nicely this last and most essential need.

Walk with me, Oh Lord I pray.
Give me strength throughout the day.
Take my problems big and small.
Lift me when I tend to fall.

Walk with me, Oh Lord I pray.
Prompt me what to do and say.
Let me feel you always there.
Lift me when I feel despair.

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, January 11, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

There are at least four major scenes in the Bible involving water.

At the very beginning of creation, even before God utters the words, “Let there be light!” we find the Spirit of God hovering over the waters.

In Noah’s time water became a great flood. It marked the end of vice and a new beginning of virtue. It was also then that the dove became a significant symbol of peace.

In the book of Exodus the descendants of Abraham passed dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea. The time of slavery was over. A new time of freedom had begun.

All four Gospels mention the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. This marked the end of Jesus’ private life and the beginning of his public ministry. Again, we find the Holy Spirit present at the event.

Jesus’ appearance on the public scene can hardly be called a “grand entrance.” No one in the crowd, except maybe John the Baptist, seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. It’s all over in three verses. And yet it is one of the most important moments in the Gospels.

Water continues to have special meaning. In baptism it marks a new creation, a beginning of virtue, and liberation from the enslaving power of sin. It isn’t just the water, of course, but also and especially the Holy Spirit as work through the water. At the end of the blessing of baptismal water, the priest prays to the Father in these words:

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image
and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.
May the power of the Holy Spirit,
O Lord, we pray,
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise again to life with him.”

All churches have water at the entrance of the church. People dip their finger in it and make the Sign of the Cross as they enter and leave. We call it Holy Water, but ideally it is Baptismal Water, blessed with the same prayer as at the Easter Vigil, which I have quoted in part above.

It’s purpose is precisely to remind us of our baptism. When you sign yourself with baptismal water as you enter or leave the Church, remember: you came here as a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Body of Christ, a member of the community of believers. And you leave, hopefully, as a more committed disciple, more intimately attached to the Body of Christ, more deeply connected to the community of believers.

The gesture of signing yourself with baptismal water is not to be taken lightly. Baptism includes certain commitments, imposes certain expectations. In the rite of baptism, the celebrant says at one point to the one being baptized: “I claim you for Christ.”

Christ has a claim on you, because you were baptized in his name. 

But don’t forget: because you were baptized in his name, you have a claim on Christ!

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 4, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

I always hesitate to announce that the homily that I am about to give will be short, but I’ll risk it. This will be a short homily. I hope you will fill in the blanks by pausing to ponder the questions raised along the way.

All of us Christians are disciples of Christ. Even those of us who are cradle Catholics at some point “became” disciples in a personal way. Something led us to that moment. That was our star of Bethlehem. Or, to compare our experience to that of St. Paul, that was our road to Damascus. Can your remember what that was? A person? A place? A thing? An event?

The Magi found him, rejoiced, and laid their gifts before him. Paul rejoiced and gave his life to Christ. At some point, we found him, and rejoiced. What gifts did we bring then? What gifts do we bring now?

The Magi came to “do him homage.” (The word “homage” occurs three times in this Gospel.) Paying homage to the Lord was their desire, but also their need. So, too, for us. At some point we made that same act of humility, of recognition of the Lord’s place in our life. That was our homage. Do you remember when that was? What form did it take then? What form does it take now?

It’s a good thing to review these things from time to time,
            to renew our discipleship.
                        to deepen our homage.
                                    to make a fuller gift of ourselves.
                                                to continue to discover him,
                                                            wherever he encounters us,                                              with the help of whatever star he sends us.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, January 1st, 2015, Year B

Guest homily by Father Steve Grunow

January 1st is celebrated as not only the first date of the calendar’s new year, but also by the Church as the Solemnity of the Mother of God.

The Solemnity of the Mother of God refers to one of the great dogmas of the Church’s formal profession of Faith- the child of the Blessed Virgin Mary is God.
Not only is January 1st considered to be New Year’s Day AND the Solemnity of the Mother of God, but it is also acclaimed by the Church to be the World Day of Peace, when prayers for peace are to be offered by the Christian faithful.
As if this all wasn’t enough, January 1st was formally the day on which the Church commemorated the Circumcision of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the Gospel for today mentions that the Lord Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth, thus the Church’s commemoration of this event on the eighth day after the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Both the Old and New Testament testify that it is circumcision that sets one apart as a true Israelite. All Israelite males from time immemorial have been circumcised as a sign, cut into their own flesh, of the covenant that God makes with his people. Thus the practice has divine sanction and bears the weight of divine law.
It is clear from the testimony of the Gospel, that God did not exempt himself from conformity to his own law, and submitted himself to the experience. Testimony that God does not ask us to undergo things that he himself is not willing to experience for himself.
The significance of Christ’s circumcision is actually of great importance.
Remember, the central claim of the Church’s profession of Faith is that God in Christ accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life.
Born into our world, God accepts a particular family and culture as his own and God binds himself to this family and culture in his body and with his blood. God’s identification with Israel is literally cut into the body of his human nature and it goes deeper than the wound of his circumcision and penetrate to the cellular level of his body.
The glorified Body of Christ that we will one see revealed in heaven is the body of an Israelite. Thus, Israel is not rejected or refused by God, but brought to its fulfillment and we see the fulfillment of Israel in the body of the Lord Jesus. God chooses Israel in a way that exceeds all expectations.
Further, resisting our tendencies to reduce Christ to an idea or feeling or story, the circumcision of Christ indicates that the Body of Christ’s human nature is very real indeed. The baby bleeds real human blood. The man would bleed real blood too. The humanity of God in Christ is not a simulation.
And, also, while we might prefer to keep both the Holy Child and the adult Jesus covered up and free of sexuality, Christ, inasmuch as he is fully human, is also fully a man.
Some insist that all this body and blood stuff is a scandal, impossible for God to do and beneath his dignity. The Church insists that this is all in fact what God has done.
The once renowned commentator on the Church’s worship, a man by the name of Pius Parsch, noted that the Circumcision of the Lord is the first sacrifice of our redemption. This is an illuminating way to consider the mystery of Christ, and our relationship to his mysterious revelation.
There is no love in this world without a sacrifice, and it is through sacrifice that our love is proven to be true or false.
We live in a culture that pretends that we can have love without sacrifice, but in this distortion of reality, the risk and reward of true love is extinguished, as well as its power to redeem...
Go to Father Steve Grunow's website to read the homily in full

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, December 28, 2014, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Note: I have chosen the readings from Sirach and Colossians

It is my custom on the feast of the Holy Family to offer “words of wisdom” for family life. Underlying them is what I call the Snowflake Principle: People are like snowflakes, no two are alike. Clearly, God loves variety. We need to respect God’s variety, respecting one another, “bearing with one another,” as St. Paul writes. We need to minimize our faults and capitalize on our strengths.

Other principles:

2. Elbows and Toes.

You can’t rub elbows with the same people day in and day out without sometimes stepping on each others’ toes. We need to be realistic about family life, learn to say “of course,” and “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” Tensions inevitable. What happens after is what really matters.

3. I’m nobody, who are you? (from a poem by Emily Dickinson).

We need a sense of honest humility, a sense of humor about ourselves, including the very difficult notion that we are not the center of the universe.

4. Remember to forget.

Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, when reminded of a serious offense she had once received, answered, “You know, I distinctly remember forgetting that.” We need to let go, really let go, of ancient offenses.

5. The Home principle.

In “The Death of the Hired Man” (a poem by Robert Frost), the wife of a farmer tells her husband that a former worker has returned. The farmer doesn’t want him because the worker had walked out on him at the height of the harvest. The conversation continues as follows:

Wife: He has come home to die.

Husband: Home is the place where, when you have to go there,                        they have to take you in.

Wife: I should have called it something you somehow haven't                   to deserve.

There is a difference between a house and a home, between living together and encouraging life. A few days ago Pope Francis addressed the employees of Vatican City, and said: “Take good care of your family. Family is a treasure, children are a treasure. Young parents need to ask themselves whether they have time to play with their children, or whether they are too busy to spend time with them.... Play with your children. It’s so beautiful. This is how you sow the seeds of the future.”

The cruelest part of bullying is that is says: “You don’t belong!” We all belong. We all have our rightful place. We don’t have to deserve it.

6. Avoid Funagalo language.

In the first volume of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the father of the main character remembers his days of working in the mines. "They taught us Funagalo, which is the language used for giving orders underground. It is a strange language.... It is a language which is good for telling people what to do. There are many words for push, take, shove, carry, load, and no words for love, or happiness, or the sounds which birds make in the morning."

It is easy for practical concerns to take over in our dealings with others; so much needs “doing.” We can be too tired for anything else. We need to share more than work-related ideas and plans, but love of the arts, for example, and anything else that brings light into our life, even – why not? – our faith.

7. “Somebody’s Got to Do it”

There are some things I can’t do, or won’t do. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be done. I can encourage those who are passionate about things that don’t move me or, at the very least, I can get out of the way!

But sometimes it ends up I am actually the somebody that’s got to do it! In Jeremiah 1:4-8 we read:

The word of the Lord came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. "Ah, Lord God!" I said, "I know not how to speak; I am too young." But the Lord answered me, Say not, "I am too young." To whomever I send you, you shall go.


In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the princess Cordelia tells her father, “I love thee according to my bond.” She means she loves him exactly as she ought. For the King, that isn’t good enough, and he disowns her. He doesn’t realize till it is too late how deeply she really loves him.

Family life requires, more than anything else, that we love each another according to our bond, exactly as we ought.

The starting point is to recognize how deeply we are all accepted and loved by God. If we can then learn to accept and love ourselves and others as we and they are accepted and loved by God, our families will be transformed.

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

(Click here for today’s readings

About 20 years ago I was asked to speak to a group of candidates in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, on the topic of “de-creation,” i.e., the fall of Adam and Eve and its negative impact of on creation and history. I began by showing them a very beautiful, truly artistic mug that had been given to me. It reflected the love of the artist, and of the one who gave it to me, just as the world created by God reflected his love.

A little bit later, I “accidentally” knocked the mug off the podium and it shattered on the floor. As it began to fall, everyone in the group gasped.

I concluded, “That is what creation did when Adam and Eve reached for the forbidden fruit. All creation gasped, crying out: ‘No! No! No!’”

Almost 900 years ago, St. Bernard of Clairvaux delivered four homilies on today’s Gospel. Each one is easily four or five times as long as today’s average homily. In a translation published in 1909 the four homilies take up a total of 50 pages.

After various explanations of different parts of the text, St. Bernard comes to the decisive moment when Mary has to give her answer. At this point he places himself in the position not of commentator but of observer, even of participant.

He calls to her: “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

"The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

“Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

“Why do you delay? Why are you afraid?”

Finally, Mary speaks. " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to thy word."  Here St. Bernard takes himself out of the story and returns to his original role of commentator.

If I may go back to the image of my shattered mug and “de-creation,” I would add that, at moment of Mary’s fiat, her “Yes,” all creation breathed an ecstatic sigh of relief and cried out jubilantly, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
In the first reading, God says “No” to David’s plan to build a temple. But that was followed immediately by God’s magnanimous “Yes” to David’s faithful heart.

St. Paul writes about the “obedience of faith.” We find it in David. We find it in Mary. This isn’t merely doing what one is told. It is founded on the acceptance of God’s word and the deep desire to live by it.

We might call Advent an “attractive” season, with all its prophecies of hope and promises of salvation. If we can take full advantage of the few days remaining, we will be able to rejoice, joining our “Yes!” to that of all creation as we celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Let every Christmas carol, every Christmas gift, every Christmas greeting be a “Yes!” to his coming and to the meaning that his coming brings into our lives, not only at this time of year, but at all times and in all places.