February 28, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 1, 2015, Year B

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

One thing is certain. For Peter, James and John, after what they experienced on that mountain, everything was changed. For Abraham, after what he experienced on another mountain, everything was changed. One was an experience of glory. The other was a test.

And what a test! How could God do such a thing to Abraham? How could Abraham accept it without a fight? How could Isaac, presumably a teenager by this time, let himself be tied up and placed on the altar of sacrifice? These are questions that people raise in perfectly good faith. The whole thing seems incredible to us, impossible; which is our way of saying: “I couldn’t do that!”

Even granting, as I often say, that it was “another world,” in which it seems child sacrifice was practiced by the pagans, the sacrifice of Isaac is hard for modern readers to make sense of. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews offers the following explanation: “Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son... He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead...” (Heb. 11:17-19). That’s all well and good, but this was much more than a rational exercise!

In fact, that quotation from Hebrews is among the several verses recalling four moments in the life of Sarah and Abraham. Each episode cited, including this one, is preceded by the words, “By faith.”

Abraham was not passive. Remember how he argued with God in an effort to save Sodom and Gomorrah? The same relationship that allowed him to challenge God then, enabled him now to accept God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac—a relationship of perfect trust, based on deep faith.

Abraham’s total commitment to God, which began over forty years earlier, was his response to God’s total commitment to him. God chose him, guided him, defended him, made and kept generous promises to him. Abraham believed then, and did not stop believing now.

We probably all know good persons whose lives have been marked by seemingly endless tragedies and misfortunes, and who have persevered in a most admirable faith. I am reminded of the American Colonial poet Edward Taylor, who lost several infant children. He was a Congregational minister. In one of his poems he writes of the first two children that died. Not covering up his grief, he nevertheless recognizes that he brought those children into the world for God’s glory, and he concludes, “Take, Lord, they’re thine.” Incredible? Impossible? No. Magnificent!

What we witness on Abraham’s mountain is magnificent faith. The faith that has been nourished and strengthened over many years reaches its pinnacle in this moment. He has always believed in God’s love for him, and he isn’t going to doubt it now!

St. Paul reminds us, ““If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” He challenges us to demonstrate that same magnificent faith.

Abraham’s story has a happy ending. Even if it did not, the point would be the same: by faith, Abraham accepted God’s will, submitted to this tremendous test, and showed his total devotion to God. So, too, Jesus was “handed over” for us all, and his glorious resurrection confirmed the glory of his sacrifice.

What is faith that is never challenged? In a way, it’s like dancers or athletes whose skill has never been put to the test. They may be good, even very good, but not great, certainly not magnificent.

Considering that St. Peter witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus, and yet his faith faltered in his time of testing, I am not eager that my faith should be put to the test. But when it is, I pray that the gift of faith that the Lord has nourished these many years—including my own Transfiguration moments—may not falter, but rather look only to him in whom that faith is placed, and rely on him absolutely.

Can it be? Dare we hope that our own faith could actually be magnificent?

February 26, 2015

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.

February 21, 2015

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.

February 17, 2015

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

February 14, 2015

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.

February 6, 2015

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.