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

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 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. 
                                    --  (Helen Parker)

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. “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

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.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2014, Year B

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

The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday.” It comes from the first word of the “Entrance antiphon” or “Introit” of the Mass. “Gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice,” and the text of the antiphon is from Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” It appears in a shorter form in today’s second reading: “Rejoice always.” More on this later.

Television shows have gone through many fads and phases. There was the age of quiz shows, the age of westerns, of variety shows, of situation comedies, of detectives, and so on. Today we are in the age of “reality shows.”

They are of two types. There are those where we simply observe people: litigants in small claims court, women buying a wedding dress, survivalists, home buyers, you name it. Others are competitions, in which each week someone wins and someone is eliminated.

Some of the competitions involve fashion designers. At the beginning of each episode they are given a challenge; they have to make a garment either using specific materials, or inspired by a work of art, a city, an animal, a famous person. In today’s first reading there is a text that would provide just such a challenge. Here it is:

I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice.

The designers’ challenge would be to create that “robe of salvation,” that “mantle of justice,” which at the same time would express the soul’s joy in God. I think it would make a great show.

As interesting as that might be, however, they could never come close. The robe and mantle in question are God’s work. He designed it special for his people. His inspiration was his own promise to restore them to their own land after the time of exile, and to make them faithful to him once again.

John the Baptist, featured in today’s Gospel, would not have fared well in one of those competition shows. He stated clearly and emphatically that he was not the Messiah, not Elijah (whose return was expected “before the day of the Lord,” according to Malachi 3:23), not “the Prophet” (perhaps the one promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15). And later on, when his disciples told him that Jesus had begun baptizing, his reply was: “He must increase, I must decrease.” In effect he was saying, “My work is done here.” It was a recognition that his work wasn’t really his work at all. He was just “a voice,” an instrument for announcing God’s word.

The same reality applies to our spiritual life. Sometimes when people seek spiritual direction they are under the impression that a spiritual director will simply tell them what to do in order to make progress in their life of faith. Actually, it is more like what St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “Test everything.”

I usually put it this way: follow what inspires and attracts; if that isn’t what God is calling you to, you will find out soon enough. In other words, as in John the Baptist’s case, it isn’t our work. It’s God’s work, God’s grace, God’s gift. St. Paul goes on: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”

We don’t make ourselves holy. We can’t, on our own, preserve ourselves blameless. But God, who is faithful, will accomplish it.

He will—he really will—clothe us with a robe of salvation. He really will wrap us in a mantle of justice. He really will make us rejoice heartily in him, and, as St. Paul says, “rejoice always!”

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 7, 2014, Year B

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

We read today in 2 Peter, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” This salutary but unsettling reminder of what is to come makes me think of one of the “Holy Sonnets” of the 17th century poet and essayist John Donne. It begins with the words: “What if this present were the world’s last night?”

“What if?” indeed! If we knew we had such little time, how would we spend it? Rush to the nearest confessional? Seek out the people we love most? Just cower in fear?

The poet is not afraid. He invites his soul to look into his heart and see there the image of Christ crucified, which for him is beautiful and offers him assurance of mercy.

We should note that St. Peter’s imagery is not simply about destruction. He follows immediately with this: “But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Similarly Isaiah, who is quoted in Mark’s, is not suggesting that valleys be filled in and mountains be made low in a destructive way. The point is to make a straight, direct route for God to come to his people. Anyone living in a mountainous area knows how travel times can be doubled and tripled by winding roads.

John the Baptist is “the voice” calling for the straight path. There are many singers and actors famous for their voice. John is famous for his voice, but in a different way. He is the herald, not drawing attention to himself but to the one who is to come after him.

Have you ever had the experience of imagining what someone looks like, based only on the sound of his or her voice? I once was curious enough to search the Internet for a picture of Steve Zirnkilton, whose voice introduces every episode of all three Law & Order series on television (“In the criminal justice system...,” etc.). I was surprised and amused to see how far off I was! His appearance seemed so unlikely to me.

There are prophetic voices around us even today, calling us to fill in valleys and make mountains low. Often they are unlikely prophets, hard for us to recognize.

Mountains and valleys constitute obstacles. The valleys and mountains of Isaiah are not the physical ones that would require engineers to level out. The ups and downs and winding roads are in the “wasteland” that our hearts can sometimes be. Mountains of self-importance, of greed, of whatever makes us think we are above the human condition. Ravines of jealousy, of self-pity, of whatever drags us down and stifles hope. We all have them at times, and in an infinite variety of forms.

Maybe there is an unlikely prophet, a voice crying in our desert, to help us.

Be that as it may the question remains: How can I, how can you, make a straight path for the Lord into our lives and hearts? How can we prepare for the “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”?

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 2014, Year B

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

I have a revelation to make.

What does that statement make you expect? A personal confession? Some new scandal in the Church? An interesting secret, or some news that will amaze or disappoint you?

One way or another, the statement probably sparked your interest.

In today’s reading from St. Paul, we find a similar idea: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christians of Corinth, who are already believers, are waiting for another revelation.

As we begin a new year in the life of the Church, we do so with a sense of anticipation. In this respect Advent is quite different from Lent. Both use purple vestments, both omit the Gloria at Mass, both are meant to be a sober preparation for a great feast to follow. Still, have you ever heard of making “Advent resolutions”?

For whatever reason, Advent isn’t usually experienced as a time for taking stock, for conversion. From that point of view, today’s first reading from Isaiah comes as a surprise with its heavily penitential tone: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people... and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”

In Advent we look less inward than outward. Instead of recurring themes of mercy and forgiveness, we sing “O come, O come, Emmanuel!” In the responsorial Psalm we read, “Rouse your power and come to save us.” Even Isaiah cries out: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

This is definitely an upbeat season. It is time for God to act. We perceive ourselves as needing only to be ready and waiting.

Now it is just possible that this need to be ready and waiting may challenge us to make some important changes in our life. There are, after all, so many distractions. Christmas itself, since it involves shopping and decorations and parties, becomes a distraction from Advent. These things are inevitable, so we do have to make a serious effort to maintain the focus on the revelation that is to come.

There is an almost seamless transition from the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of the next. Just last Sunday we had the perspective of the final coming of Christ as Judge. The week before that we had the parable of the master returning and settling accounts with his servants. Today we are told to be like servants expecting the master’s return.

There is a difference, nonetheless. Over the last few weeks we have been anticipating the final and definitive revelation in the Second Coming of Christ. As we say in the Creed: “He will come again in glory... and his kingdom will have no end.” This is the faith of the Church.

In Advent, our horizon is not so vast. While waiting for the Ultimate Revelation, we also live in expectation of what we might call intermediate revelations.

I am not talking about any new public or private revelation as distinct from that already received and transmitted by the Church. What I mean is that Advent is a perfect time for us to be especially attentive, for example, to the readings at Mass, so that we might experience that revelation in a new, personal way.

Ideally this would become our way of life as Christians, not limited to these four weeks. As Jesus says: “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

Advent teaches us to expect God to surprise us, to expect him to say, “I have a revelation to make.” That should spark our interest!

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 23, 2014, Year B

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

This is one scary Gospel. It is part of the inspiration for the Sequence we used to sing at funerals, Dies irae, dies illa... “That day will be a day of wrath.” Near the end, the text reads:

Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.

Can it be that our eternal fate depends on our response to those in need? Does faith no longer count for anything?

No, faith has not lost its preeminent place. It is precisely as believers that we are challenged to put faith into action. The Letter of James has the famous passage: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” And in the previous verse we read, “The judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy.”

There is, of course, the question of what to do.

Is it enough to admire the Mother Teresas and Dorothy Days and get out of the way and let them do their great work and applaud them?

Is it enough to give to good causes, from a safe distance, so to speak? This is not a bad thing, of course. No one could be condemned for it.

Is it enough to volunteer in various charities?

These are the wrong questions. It is not enough to ask what is enough. The question itself lends itself to settling for the minimum, to finding the exact placement of the fine line between “I can’t do everything” and “I won’t do anything.”

The starting point, you see, isn’t the what, the external actions and good works. It’s the attitude, more specifically, in our case, the Christian attitude that seeks to imitate Jesus in every way: his kindness, his respect, his welcoming way, his concern, his thirst for justice, etc.—in short, never the minimum, always generous, a kind of “magnificent obsession.”

There are those whose job description absolutely requires them to tend to the needs of the poor and oppressed. In the reading from Ezekiel. God says that he himself will tend the sheep, seek the lost, bind up the injured, and so on. The context, however, is a ferocious condemnation of the “official” shepherds who failed to do these things.

Now back to the what.

Most of us do in fact respond to the needs of those who are hungry and thirsty by donating money or food to various agencies, volunteering time at soup kitchens and community Thanksgiving meals, etc. The same may well apply to “I was naked and you clothed me,” while “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” is definitely more of a challenge.

Most of us visit the sick at one time or another. Visiting prisoners is a more specialized ministry, that some do choose to take on.

Is that the whole list? I am reminded of a hymn we used to sing when I was in a parish in England, in which we hear Jesus saying:

Look around you, can you see?
Times are troubled, people grieve.
See the violence, feel the hardness;
All my people, weep with me.

Walk among them, I'll go with you.
Reach out to them with my hands.
Suffer with me, and together
We will serve them, help them stand.

If we look around us, we can add to the list, and maybe see where our personal strengths lie for reaching out to “the least of Christ’s brethren.”

I was unemployed, and you hired me.
I was abused, and you rescued me.
I was lonely, and you gave me a call, you sent me a card.
I needed to talk, and you listened to me.

I was old and confused, and you were patient with me.
I was ignorant, and you treated me with respect.
This is not a checklist. It’s a list of hints and suggestions for creatively generous hearts.

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 16, 2014, Year A

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

If there is anybody here whose grandmother was (or is) a lousy cook, you may well be in a minority of one. Grandma’s (or Nana’s or Mémère’s or Nonna’s) cooking is the stuff of family memories and legends. No one cooks the way she did.

The “worthy wife” of the first reading is that kind of person. The text concludes, “Let her works praise her at the city gates.” The image here is a little foreign to us, so I’ll explain it briefly. In ancient times the city gates were the place where you were most likely to run into friends and catch up on the latest news and gossip. But when you spoke of “Mrs. Worthy,” you would be praising her, for her talents and her character, and everyone would think what a lucky man “Mr. Worthy” was.

In this context, you could reasonably take the “talents” of today’s parable to mean whatever you happen to be good at. That is not really so far off the mark, since that is the modern meaning of a word which in Jesus’ time meant an extremely large amount of money.

“Mrs. Worthy,” however, also helps us understand talents both as what you are good at, and as something that has significant value. I dare say many of you have talents that meet that criterion.

That said, the parable can’t really be just about developing our skills and using them well. That’s because the parable isn’t only about us. Yes, we can see ourselves as the “servants,” but there is also the “Master.” The parable is about both, about the relationship between them.

It’s especially the third servant, the one who hid his master’s money, that makes the point for us. His relationship toward the master was one of fear—not the abiding respect that is called “fear of the Lord,” one of the qualities we find in the worthy wife—but genuine craven fear. “I knew you were a demanding person,” he says, and so he chose not to take the risk of losing the one talent. The master had shown him, according to his abilities, equal trust with the other two servants; but he, the servant, apparently did not share his master’s trust in him.

The other two understood what was expected of them, and doubled their master’s money. Fear of the master did not paralyze them. On the contrary, they were highly motivated, perhaps because they anticipated some reward, or perhaps simply because they wished to please him.

Back to ourselves, we need to ask the same question. Not just, how can I best develop the talents have I been given, and use them? but, more importantly, why? St. Paul gives us one possible version of the answer: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief at night... Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do.”

The motivation is that we need to be ready when the Master returns, to give him an accounting of our stewardship. What we have received isn’t given to us only for ourselves. We are servants, after all, ideally eager to serve and anxious to show off how we have served.

Going back to Grandma’s cooking, what really made it so very special, after all? Secret spices? No. Fresh ingredients? No. Precise measurements? Certainly not!

It was the love, the same love that set the “worthy wife” apart, the same love that needs to set us apart as “good and faithful servants.”

The day came when Grandma wasn’t up to cooking any more. She minded that terribly, not because of the food, but because she could no longer demonstrate her love in that particular way.

When and if the time comes that we can no longer exercise the skills we have used in the Master’s service, we will lay down our various tools of the trade, and all that will be left is love. And the Master will still be well served, and well pleased.