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Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter: The Greatest Miracle in Human HIstory!

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

 Happy Easter! Alleluia! Christ is risen!

My brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the greatest miracle in human history, the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead!

It is in fact the resurrection of Our Lord that is the foundation of Christianity! Everything we believe and all that is sacred stands on the fact that Christ was raised from the dead.
Today’s celebration reminds us that the resurrection is not something to be seen with normal eyes. It is something to be seen with the eyes of faith through the words of the witnesses we hear in the scriptures. We hear of these witnesses in today’s first reading (Acts 10:34-43) as Saint Peter proclaims “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.” 

And that he was put to death. But God raised Him on the third day and granted that he be
visible, to those “witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

Yet, our faith in the resurrection of Our Lord does not come simply from the words of the witnesses we hear in the scriptures. Our faith is also greatly inspired by the ways in which these witnesses lived their lives. 

In fact, the impact of the resurrection of our Lord in the lives of the early church was radical indeed! Several early members of the Church gave up literally everything, even their very lives in order to live as Christians! 

These individuals suffered the most horrendous deaths as a result of their faith in the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus! They suffered crucifixions, stonings, beatings, burning at the stake, and even being thrown to lions!

Today’s celebration of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus from the dead calls us to a new and radical way of living!

In today’s second reading (Colossians 3:14), Saint Paul says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

As Christians, we are to listen to these words of Saint Paul! We are to live our lives not for the world, but for God! For the resurrection teaches us who we are to become. 

We are to become children of God. We are to be resurrected with Our Lord at the final resurrection. 

Yet, if we want to live in the resurrection with Our Lord, than we must strive to make changes in our lives today. We must strive to remove from our lives all impurity because nothing impure can enter into the kingdom of heaven.

The resurrection reminds us that even in this life, when we live for God, our body becomes a temple of light. But, when we live in sin, our body becomes a vehicle of darkness. We can see this darkness in the lives of many in our society today as more and more persons conform their lives to the spirit of the world.

When we live for the world we are not happy, and when the spirit of the world takes over our lives, then we bring degradation upon our souls. This is why Our Lord has come. He has come to call us out of the world because the world in its present form is passing away, and it is taking many souls with it. 

In fact, our Lord has told us that only a few will enter into the narrow gate of heaven. For the gate that leads to damnation is wide, and those who enter through it are many. 

Fr. John Paul Shea 
My brothers and sisters, Our Lord is coming again soon, and He will judge the living and the dead! Therefore, our Lord calls us to live for Him. He calls us to seek what is above. Our Lord wants us to pray. He wants us to live chastely and devoutly.

So, let us seek conversion of heart and purity of mind and body so that we can become the resurrected persons our Lord has died for. Let us be on fire for our faith as was the early disciples of our Church! For Christ has risen indeed! Alleluia!

Did you enjoy this homily. Fr. Shea has another one on Palm Sunday called

PALM SUNDAY: This Holy Week Ends in a Showdown between Good and Evil

Thursday, March 10, 2016

En Garde! In Defense of the Holy Rosary and Other Catholic Practice

by Susan Fox 

Christian Pastor James J. Brown is pro-life, favors Traditional Marriage and understands the dangers of Islam. But he doesn't understand why Catholics pray the Rosary. This is his notice to Catholics on Google: 
Pastor James J. Brown, such is vain ignorance.

The Rosary is a meditation on Scripture itself. It is the vast training ground of prayer and therefore the door that opens when Christ knocks.

It leashes the three dogs of useless talking, vain imagination and a cold heart towards God. These three dogs are trying to pull us in three different directions. The Rosary --
Useless talking, vain imagination and cold heart pulling
us in different directions
properly prayed -- ties up these fractious dogs and allows us to love God with our whole heart!

The first dog resides in our wagging lips. This dog will waste our time rattling endlessly so much flotsam and jetsam. "Did you hear what that no good bloke said to me yesterday?" "Why is she dressed like that?"

“Silence. Pray,” the angel says. “Listen to me:”  "Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus." (Luke 1:28,31)   When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, His answer was: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy
 Name." How can we go wrong praying what Our Lord Himself told us to pray, and doing it five times during the entire Rosary?

The second wild dog is our own imagination. While you are trying to pray, are you not endlessly distracted with thoughts about what someone said to you yesterday, or what you will eat at dinner?  This dog is pulling you away from God. When we pray the Rosary,
we must THINK about the very Life of Jesus as we have read about it in Scripture! These are called the mysteries of the Rosary. We think of His Birth, how the angels came to the little people of the world -- the shepherds, inviting them to the Birth in the manger. Pray about the excited response of the shepherds! They got up and ran to where the Child lay in the manger! Lord, give me that excitement in Your Presence!

During the Rosary, we think about the Wise Men who traveled far to give Him gifts fit for a King, God and Sacrifice. Do you realize the implications of that? Here is God come in the flesh willing to die for our sins.  Already, at His Birth, foreign kings understood this. And the usurper King Herod, who was not born of the line of David, also understood the significance of Christ’s Birth. When he realized that the foreign kings had double-crossed him by not returning to give him the location of the Messiah, he sent his guards into Bethlehem (meaning “House of Bread”) to kill the true King along with all the male children age two and under.
"A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Matt 2:18)

In the Holy Rosary, we think of Christ’s Life -- His presence at the Wedding Feast of Cana. Here He worked His first public miracle at the request of His Mother.  We ponder Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan, how this holy guy named John the Baptist didn't think he was fit to tie Jesus' sandals! Why not? What is different about Jesus? Isn’t He just a man?

While praying the Rosary, we think of the parables of the Kingdom of God. What do they tell us about Christ? Is not the Kingdom of God the very Life of Christ within us?  We pray about His Transfiguration, the manifestation of His Glory, which so confused the apostles that they wanted to build three altars!

We meditate on the Last Supper. "This is my Body. This is My Blood." Lo, He didn't say, “This is the symbol of my Body. This is the symbol of my Blood.” He literally said, “This is my Body.” And since it is Christ saying it, we know He made it true.
"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" (John 6: 51-52)

How is it that those Jews knew Christ was telling them to eat His flesh, and you Bible beginners don’t know that Christ told us to eat His flesh -- even though you use your lips to say Scripture is infallible? You don’t think Scripture is infallible! You think you are infallible, and your out-of-context interpretation is infallible.

Many Catholics go to daily Mass where Christ's one Mediation in time is re-presented. This is what Christ was talking about! “This is my Body! This is my Blood!” We Catholics are time travelers because at every Mass we participate in His original Last Supper and His original Passion, Death and Resurrection. We eat the Real Body and Blood of Christ every day as He commanded literally. We hear His Gospel daily, the Word of God!

It's not because He needs to die over and over again. No, He does it once. But we are human beings. We are weak. We need the nourishment of His Passion, Death and Resurrection every single day.
Christ willed to accompany us daily during our entire lives! Yes, He is present in the Word of God, in which we rejoice during the Mass, during the Liturgy of the Hours, and during our private Bible reading. The Word of God is the complete focus of our meditation in the Rosary! Daily we can receive the Word of God, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist! Daily we can focus on His Word praying the Rosary.

In praying the Rosary, we think about His Passion. We comfort Him in the Garden while the apostles sleep. We watch in horror His scourging at the pillar, which He so mercifully suffered, for our sakes. We stand with Him as He is mocked, humiliated and scorned during the crowning of thorns.

We walk with Him and Simeon, carrying the cross. We see the kindness and generosity of Jesus as He meets the people along the way, telling them not to weep for Him, but for their own children. While He suffered on the way to Calvary, He felt pity for Jerusalem, which he knew would be destroyed in 35 short years by the Romans.   

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, 'BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!'" (Matthew 23: 37-39)
In the Rosary, we kneel at the foot of the cross as He says, "Behold Your Mother!" We rejoice in the honor shown to Mary by Her Son along with St. Paul, who said "And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Cor 12:26) Mary is honored by the angel at the Annunciation, honored by the Son at His death, honored by the Church at its Birth on Pentecost, and honored by Elizabeth in the Bible when she says, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43) If all these in the Bible honored Mary, why should we not do so?

On the cross, He owned nothing! Not even His clothes. And He gave His last remaining and most precious possession away! His Mother. “Behold Your Mother!” We are to take her into our home.

During the Rosary we meditate on the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This leashes the dog of the imagination that wants to run wild and think about something vain and worthless like chastising Catholics who honestly worship in Spirit and Truth when they pray the Rosary.
 The third dog to be leashed is the heart. Oh the heart wants to run after riches, getting things done (prayer is useless), wasting time thinking about a shiny bobble or a new car. The heart wants to stick its nose in other people’s business. The heart slyly wants to admire itself. It does this so the human being isn't aware of it. “Aren't I good? Don't I do good things for God?” says the heart. 

But the Rosary restrains the dog of the heart, and encourages it to wholeheartedly turn to God, its Creator. The Rosary softens the heart, makes it grateful for the job God did to save its worthless hide. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son!” (John 3:16)

Jesus was upset when he realized the Jews were thinking that Moses gave them the manna in the desert. You can almost hear the frustration in His voice:  “It is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”

Hush, now, I am praying the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary and therefore I am in the room where the angel comes to announce to Mary that she will be the Mother of God. I notice how sweetly she accepts the will of God. She clearly recognizes that the angel invites her to be the Mother of the Messiah. She fully knows what he means because she uses the words of the Messianic Psalm 116 to accept the will of God:

"O LORD, surely I am Your servant, I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid, You have loosed my bonds. To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, And call upon the name of the LORD. I shall pay my vows to the LORD, Oh may it be in the presence of all His people" (Psalm 116:16-18)

And Mary response shows she read that psalm. She understood it. She knew God was asking her to be the Mother of God. "Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, Be it done to me according to Your Word." (Luke 1:38) She would be the mother of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the prophesized Messiah.

But her statement: “How shall this be done, because I know not man” is also prophetic. (Luke 1:34) She is not just talking about her virginity though she is a virgin. She is talking directly to God with a very important question that any good Jew would ask. The angel’s response gives us a clue to what she is asking.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1: 35) 
How did God enter the Temple the first time? God entered the Temple through a cloud that overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant. And the Glory of the Lord traveled with the Israelites in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. “And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (I Kings 8:10-11)  

Tragically, Ezekiel sees the Glory of the Lord leave the temple about 600 years before the Birth of Christ. And Mary is aware of this. She knew God’s presence left the temple before she was born because of Israel’s secret worship of abominations in the Temple. God asks Ezekiel, Have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness” (Ezekiel 8:12).

The horror that Ezekiel saw and reported in chapters 8-11 is fulfilled when the armies of Babylon destroy the city and slay its inhabitants in 586 B.C.

“How can this be? I know not man.” The young Jewish virgin asks God, knowing that God’s Hand left the Temple because of her people’s transgressions. “Are you coming back?” she asked. 

The angel tells her, “Yes. He’s coming back. You are the new Temple. The Cloud will now overshadow you, most highly favored daughter of Israel. You are the New Ark of the Covenant.”  “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1: 35)

So my heart is totally engaged in this scene, not only out of love of Mary, whom I do honor, but out of love of God, Whom I adore. I marvel at His plan for our salvation. I see He has taken care of every detail. My heart is enkindled with love for Him. Never once did I blasphemy because all true devotion to Mary is Christ centered.

Mary is transparent – almost invisible. She is a magnifying glass for God. It’s in the Bible: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46) She is the little key that opens the door of our hearts to God, the King of Glory. "Behold your Mother." 

We say the words of the angel, “Hail Mary,” and she turns to Christ and gives Him our Greetings.  

We put our imagination to work and think of the moment of the Annunciation. We bury ourselves in the Great Cloud that descended on her during the Conception of Christ in her womb and she turns to Christ and gives Him our imagination.

We turn our hearts to what is taking place in the Scriptures, and Mary takes our hearts, softens them, and gives them to God Himself.  She is an Intercessor par excellente. We are all called to be such. 

And when the Rosary is finished. I take a little flower from the bouquet of what I have given to God, and I press it to my nose all day long. And so I have Peace. Not the peace that the world gives, but the Peace that Christ gives.

And that is the power of the Holy Rosary.

Did you enjoy this post? Perhaps you'd like to read my conversion story. I used to look disdainfully on Catholics kneeling before the statue of Mary!  Confessions of a Scrupulous Devotee to Mary 

Or perhaps you are not convinced that we are allowed to talk to the dead in the Presence of Christ? Read Living Stones Built into a Spiritual House -- The Communion of Saints for a biblical defense of the Communion of Saints