March 30, 2015

Help Christians Suffering Under the Persecution of Militant Islam Throughout the World


Nasarean.org was founded by Father Benedict Kiely, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Stowe, Vermont in the Diocese of Burlington, and supported by the people and businesses there to help, in some small way, Christians suffering under the persecution of militant Islam throughout the world. This is a conflict that has been going on for centuries - and it will not end until the final victory of Christ.

Father Kiely was so concerned about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East that he started a website — www.nasarean.org — making available bracelets, lapel pins and zipper hooks with the Arabic letter designating “Nazarene,” which the Islamic State put on the homes of Christians to mark them for ostracization, harassment, and death. The letter has become a symbol of solidarity with Christians who have been driven out of their homes.

All proceeds from the items sold will go to the efforts of Aid to the Church in Need to help Christians in the region. Says Fr. Kiely, “I decided that the best thing to do would be to have all the money we raise from this project go directly to one charity with ‘boots on the ground.’ Aid to the Church in Need is well-positioned to ensure that those in need will receive the help they need.” 

You can show solidarity with, pray for and actively support Christians suffering under militant Islam. Please visit nasarean.org and contribute to this most noble cause by selecting from among their products or making a donation. 

Like them on Facebook, visit their blog, spread the word on social networks, and by word of mouth.

"Nazarenes at Home and Abroad," National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez Interview of Fr. Kiely

FNC: A symbol of hope for persecuted Christians.



EWTN: World Over - 2014-09-25 – Aiding Christians in Iraq, Fr. Benedict Keily with Raymond Arroyo



Icon of the 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs 
who have been officially recognized as Saints by the Coptic Church.
"So we're using this symbol, the Nasarene, to show the world that we're with our brothers and sisters and try to help them practically in some small way."
                                                                   - Father Benedict Kiely

March 28, 2015

Homily for Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015, Year B

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

Christ betrayed by Judas
(Click here for today’s readings)

There, you said it. You all said it. You all repeated it, six times, in the Responsorial Psalm. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” In the Passion, Jesus’ words are translated, “Why have you forsaken me?” It’s the same. Maybe some of you even thought: “I’ve been there, I know what it’s like.”

It is really hard to take this in. Did Jesus, of all people, really despair on the cross? We know he is quoting Psalm 22, composed when a distressed psalmist was desperately begging for God’s help. In Luke’s Gospel, the crucified Jesus quotes a different Psalm, number 31, also composed in a time of trial and persecution, but the verse he recites is of a totally different kind: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” But today’s Passion is Mark’s; and he and Matthew have none of the other “Seven Last Words,” just the one we have heard and recited, the bleakest of them all! How are we to make sense of it? It’s a dilemma.

If nothing else, we are reminded of what we profess in the Creed, namely that Jesus, “true God from true God... became man.” We might add: “true” man. In his humanity he truly suffered. He experienced the depths of grief and discouragement to which any of us can fall. As we read in Hebrews 4:15: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”

Another approach is this. There is a text in 2 Corinthians 5:21 in which St. Paul says that God made Jesus, who did not know sin, to “be” sin. In other words, Jesus on the cross took our sins upon himself so completely that he “became” sin. The Father as it were turned away from the sight of all that evil, and Jesus experienced abandonment.

It is important, however, to read that verse in its entirety: “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Notice: “For our sake.” We find this too in the Creed, which reminds us that the Son of God became man “for us men and for our salvation,” and that “for our sake he was crucified.” 

Here we find the best solution to our dilemma. This explains what we read today in Isaiah: “I have not rebelled, have not turned back,” and in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Why? Because, as we read in John’s Gospel, “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

The Twenty-Second Psalm is not an expression of total despair. Although it is filled with piteous lamentation, it concludes on an exultant note of hope. We saw this in the Responsorial Psalm: “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” Isaiah and St. Paul likewise look beyond the suffering and the cross, to ultimate triumph and vindication.

On March 28, 1515, exactly 500 years ago, St. Teresa of Avila was born. While she was reforming the Carmelites, she faced her share of hostility. At one point, her enemies prevailed and her life’s work came crashing down around her. She knew what it was like to feel abandoned, all the more so because her enemies were mostly other Carmelites, opposed to the reform. Hearing the agonized words of Jesus on the cross, she too could have thought: “I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.” She, too, “humbled herself.” And she never truly despaired. Remember her famous poem:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.

So the next time you find yourself beset with troubles, don’t hesitate to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Then stop, and in the silence hear Jesus’ response: “I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.”

March 21, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 22, 2015, Year B

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


What kinds of things do you like and dislike? What are you attracted to? What draws you? Why does one person love basketball while another loves opera?

What kinds of persons do you like or not like? Whom are you attracted to? Do you think of yourself as attractive, whether in your appearance or personality or talents?

What is the attraction? It is not easy to explain or analyze why we are drawn to certain things or certain persons. We just are.

Jesus said, on the eve of his Passion, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” The Evangelist John leaves no doubt about what Jesus meant: “He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.”

If we look at the scene of the crucifixion, Jesus did in fact attract a crowd on that day, but not in the sense that we are talking about, and that was certainly not his meaning. In less than two weeks, on Good Friday, we will hear a reading from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. The prophet says, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” We might even say that, in all his public life, Jesus was never less attractive than when he was hanging on the cross!

And yet, this had to be. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Eternal salvation — now that’s attractive! Because we love promises.

There is a great promise in the reading from Jeremiah. There’s going to be a new covenant. Apparently everyone will be delighted to be God’s people, and will behave accordingly. The Law will be written in their very hearts, and observing the law will become an attractive thing to do, the most natural thing in the world.

In a slightly different context, that of spiritual direction, there is principle I always propose: “Follow what attracts. If that isn’t what God wants of you, you’ll find out soon enough.” Please note, this is not opposed to doing what you should do; that is taken for granted, written on our hearts. But beyond the “shoulds” there is a vast range of possibilities. What draws you? For young persons that question usually concerns their vocation or calling in life. Once that choice is made, the range of possibilities is no longer as vast as it was, but it is by no means confined to just a few.

Specifically, returning to today’s Gospel, what is there about Jesus lifted up on the cross that attracts you? How does he draw you to himself? Stand before a crucifix or imagine the scene on Calvary. We all see and hear the same things, but we are not all the same person. And so we are drawn differently.

To illustrate this point, I often use the example of different Religious Orders. Without having done any research on the matter I imagine, nonetheless, that Jesuits, Franciscans and others respond differently to the crucified Savior, according to their perspective.

The heart of Jesuit spirituality is discernment of God’s will, in view of obedience to it. So I can easily imagine that what a Jesuit “sees” as he contemplates the crucifixion is Jesus, “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

The Franciscan way of life is centered on poverty for the sake of the Kingdom. Perhaps a Franciscan “sees” the consummate poverty of Jesus on the cross: naked, abandoned, powerless, even giving his mother away.

The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette — my Congregation — have a special vocation focused on Reconciliation. We “see” Jesus “reconciling all things to God, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).

All three are drawn to the same crucified Christ, but perceive him differently.

Other persons and groups are attracted to some other aspect of the life of Jesus: teaching, healing, compassionate, passionate about true righteousness, etc. It hardly matters, as long as Jesus draws everyone to himself.

So, what draws you to Christ? It may not be easy to explain or analyze why. But then again, you don’t have to. Just follow what attracts.

March 9, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2015, Year B

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

Cyrus the Great allows the Jews to return to Zion,
 Jean Fouquet, 1470
(Click here for today’s readings)

It must surely have happened to you that someone gave you as a gift something you already had. You expressed your thanks and later you exchanged the item, or “re-gifted” it. 

Imagine, however, if someone did that on purpose, giving you a book or DVD or membership, knowing full well that you already had it. Or what about this? I go into your home and take something I have already given you; you think it is lost forever; then I give it back again—as a gift! What could be stranger?

And yet, that is exactly the scenario described in today’s first reading. Because of the Chosen People’s infidelity, God allowed their Holy City to be destroyed and sent them into exile. Now he inspires a pagan king to let the exiles return home and rebuild Jerusalem. He gives back the gift he originally gave and took away.

What was the difference between the original gift and the restored gift? None, if we look only at the gift itself. But, just the same, many things changed.

            They recognized the gift once again for the gift it really was.
            They recognized the generosity and mercy of the Giver.
            The gift became more precious than ever.
            The Giver received deeper gratitude.
            And the people resolved to be more worthy of both gift and Giver.

“By grace you have been saved,” writes St. Paul, and not for the first time, either. Over and over again he reminds us of the gift. And John 3:16 seems to show up everywhere you turn. It’s like getting the same gift every time.

The gift in question is the gift of faith. It was given to me when others passed their faith on to me. I first believed because others believed. Then, at a certain point, I myself truly believed. It was no longer just “the faith,” no longer someone else’s faith, but mine. But it was still a gift.

This is why we keep celebrating what we call “The mystery of faith,” that wondrous, mysterious gift, that relationship that unites us to God and to the community of believers.

Faith was a gift when we first received it. It is still and always a gift. We enter into it more and more deeply. It becomes more and more personal. Any time it is threatened, even simply by being taken for granted, it becomes more precious than ever when we remember once again the gift and the Giver.

There is a poem by T.S. Eliot that contains the following magnificent lines:

                        We shall not cease from exploration
                        And the end of all our exploring
                        Will be to arrive where we started
                        And know the place for the first time.

I take the liberty of paraphrasing it here:

                        We shall not cease from faith
                        And the end of all our believing
                        Will be to arrive where we started
                        And know the gift for the first time.

The first time? When was that? What a precious moment that was.

There is a principle in the spiritual life to this effect: Go back to where God is waiting for you. Never forget the moment when you first knew that you truly believed. Go back to that moment. God is still waiting for you there, ready to renew and enrich the gift, over and over again.

March 7, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2015, Year B

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

Christ cleansing the Temple 
from Expulsion of the Money-Changers...

I am in charge here! I give the orders. Is that clear?

Even if I really believed that, I would be well advised not to say it out loud. But let’s suppose I came into your home or place of work and said the same thing. It wouldn’t be long before somebody said, “And just who do you think you are?”

In giving the Ten Commandments, God seems to have anticipated that very question. So he begins by stating, clearly and emphatically, just who he is: “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” And in case you missed it the first time, he says, three verses later, “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.” The commandments that follow are really, really important, but these statements of who God is are more important still. They are the foundation of all the rest. Why not kill? Because I say so, and I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Why not steal, why not bear false witness, and all the rest? Because I say so, and I am the Lord your God.

God proves his authority by referring to the great sign of his having liberated his people from slavery, which in turn evokes all the signs and wonders he worked through Moses in the land of Egypt, and the passing through the Red Sea.

St. Paul writes, “Jews demand signs.” We see this in today’s Gospel. “What sign can you show us for doing this?” means, “Just who do you think you are? By what right have you done this? Prove that you have the authority.”

In the Old Testament, proof often took the form of a contest. Victory would be the sign of God’s choice. Think of David and Goliath. Think of Elijah calling down fire from heaven. No room here for doubt about whom God has given his authority and power to. No more “Who do you think you are?”

Greeks, that is, the Gentile world, on the other hand, “look for wisdom.” The contest is between minds, a battle of wits, if you like. We find this approach rarely, if ever, in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it shows up occasionally in Matthew, Mark and Luke, in Jesus’ debates with the Scribes and Pharisees, where he trips them up on their own words.

John’s Gospel is a different matter. Logic is rarely appealed to, and here and there it seems seriously lacking by modern standards. Jesus’ answer to his critics in today’s account of the “cleansing” of the Temple is a good illustration. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” This could be understood only by his disciples, and even then only in hindsight, and was hardly effective for the purpose in the moment. The actual action of Jesus in casting out the sellers and animals was also a sign in itself, but again intelligible only to his disciples.

St. Paul goes on to write: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” The only “sign” we have is the sign of the Cross. But it doesn’t work, it’s not the right sign at all for a Jewish audience. The humiliating defeat of crucifixion—what kind of sign is that? And for the Gentile audience it’s no better. There’s no logic here, just nonsense, foolishness. Is that the best you can do?

Only the faith of “those who are called,” can get past the “stumbling block” and the “foolishness.”

Those who demand signs say, “Force me to believe.” Those who look for wisdom say, “Prove it to me.”

But here we are, with Christ crucified as our most powerful sign and most eloquent wisdom. And just who do you think he is?

The answer to that question really matters, because it also says who Christ crucified is in relation to you: Lord and servant? Savior and sinner? Redeemer and redeemed? Teacher and disciple? It’s not a multiple choice quiz, but the correct answer is: All of the above.  And more!