Saturday, March 18, 2017

“Sins are like grapes…they come in bunches.” - A Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Third Sunday of Lent
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
March 19, 2017

Several years ago, one of the former rectors of my seminary gave a spiritual conference to the seminarians that made such a lasting impact that it’s still talked about to this day. It was before my time in the seminary, but his words and advice were recounted so frequently among my confreres who had been there that I feel as if I had been there myself. He spoke to the seminarians about the power and lure of sin…how it lies to us and tries to convince us that it can make us happy, only to shame us and make us feel miserable in the long run. Sin is attractive, seductive, and oh-so-satisfying, he told them, but then it guts you out and leaves you for dead. And in his quirky, but on-target manner, he offered them a stern warning. “Gentlemen,” he said, “remember this: sins are like grapes…they come in bunches.” I have reflected many times on those words over the past ten years and as time goes by they seem to become more and more true. As we journey through life, we collect bunches of sins just as surely and just as effortlessly as we collect pounds on our bodies and junk in our basements. What starts off as a little bit of anger can quickly turn into a cluster of bitterness, hatred, vengeance, and violence. What starts off as a little bit of lust can quickly turn into a collection of impurity, pornography, hookups, and affairs. What starts off as a little bit of pride can quickly turn into a bundle of selfishness, greed, vanity, and smugness. And before we know it, we’re overwhelmed and can hardly recognize what we’ve become. We don’t always go out searching for these sins…we don’t necessarily go looking for them – they present themselves to us slowly, over time, and we choose them because we think, at least in the moment, that they’ll make us happy. But they never do, at least not for long. Just ask the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. For years she went from one adulterous affair to another, collecting husbands like they were going out of style, and yet she herself would probably be the first to admit that she was just as miserable and lonely as ever. And what was true for her is just as true for us in our struggle with sin…the only way to get out of this mess is to encounter Jesus Christ.

Let’s look a little more closely at this woman we hear about today. Before we hear anything specific about her, we know that she’s troubled. She has come out, on her own, at noontime to draw water from the well. First of all, no one goes to the well at noon…it’s way too hot at that time of day to be engaged in the strenuous work of pulling up and hauling buckets of water around. This work was done at dawn or dusk when it was cooler. Second, no one goes to the well alone. The daily task of going to the well for water was a communal affair – it was as much social as it was practical. The women would chat, the children would play, and everyone would have a chance to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. So just by knowing that this woman is by herself at the well at high noon we can see that she’s probably ostracized from the rest of the community. And, of course, later in the Gospel, we find out why: she’s the Hester Prynne of Samaria with her own scarlet letter, an adulteress dripping in sins of the flesh, a loose woman living with number six in her series of men.

By going to the well at noon, this woman no doubt thought that she’d get her water and get back home unnoticed and undisturbed, just like every other day. But much to her surprise, and at first to her chagrin, today she’s not alone – sitting right next to the well is Jesus of Nazareth. When He begins to speak to her, she’s immediately on the defensive – she’s edgy, smug, and rude. As He asks for a drink of water from her, she gives Him the third degree, coming up with a thousand reasons why that would be impossible. Little did she know that the superficial conversation she was having with a stranger about water was not about water at all…it was about her heavy heart that the God-Man wanted her to give over to Him. But as she found herself unable to do so, partly from her stubbornness and partly from her fear, God did what God always does…He offered His heart to her instead. He showed her that He knew her even more than she knew herself. He knew what she had done, what she had failed to do, and all of the sin and junk she had collected for herself. He knew about all her grapes and He showed her by His loving gaze that all of this was due to the fact that she herself was dying of thirst. She wanted to be loved, to be valued, to be accepted…but she bought into the lie that sin would do this for her. With every new man that she shacked up with, she was hoping to find something that would satisfy and soothe her broken, thirsting heart. But by encountering the God Who made her for Himself, she began to see that she had been looking for love – as Johnny Lee might say – in all the wrong places. She encountered the beauty of her loving God, the firmness of His truth, and His infinite goodness…and this encounter would change the rest of her life.

You and I are the woman at that well. We don’t want to hear about our sinfulness…we want to be left alone to run back and forth from our wells so that we can just get by and return back to the comfort of our sins. Yet deep down, we know that it tears us apart. We know that the grapes we have accrued for ourselves lead only to us searching for more grapes and never to our satisfaction. Our sins make us miserable…but like dogs that return to their vomit, we keep going back to them. And try as we might, we can’t break this cycle by ourselves…like the Samaritan woman, we need Christ to look us square in the eyes, to show us the truth, and to help us get out. It’s only in the penetrating fire of God’s loving gaze that we find out what we’ve been missing, that we find out the great Mystery that G.K. Chesterton so poignantly articulated when he said: “the man knocking on the brothel door is knocking for God.”

So we ask ourselves today: what are our grapes? We’ve all got them, even the holiest among us. What are the things we turn to fill ourselves up, to fill the void that only God can fill? What are the things that lie to us, that cause us to lie to ourselves, that convince us that they can and will make us happy? If you need help with this, open your Catechism to paragraph 2083 and start reading, or pick up a good examination of conscience, and pray that the God Who brought clarity and truthfulness to the Samaritan woman will do the same for you. The beautiful thing is, when we can see ourselves as God sees us, warts and all, we won’t feel accused or condemned or judged, we’ll see a way out of our muck and will begin to feel whole again. We’ll see that we don’t have to be slaves to our sour grapes, but can live in the freedom of God’s love.

Every Saturday, beginning at 2:30 PM, confessions are heard here at St. Peter’s. Every Wednesday, beginning at 7 PM, confessions are heard during the Holy Hour at the Cathedral. And Father Greg and I are only just an e-mail or a phone call away. Come to the well, admit what you’ve done, bask in the light of the noon day sun with Christ, let go of your grapes, and be free. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Becoming Holy Fools - A Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
February 19, 2017

I’d like to share with you the interesting story of Saint Simeon Salos. He was born in the 6th century in the city of Edessa, which is found in modern-day Turkey. He lived with his mother until he was 20 years old, at which time he and his longtime friend John both entered a Syrian monastery and professed their monastic vows. From there, Simeon and John traveled to the desert region near the Dead Sea and spent the next 30 years living a life of profound asceticism and developing a deep spirituality. At the age of 50, Simeon left the desert and moved to the city of Emesa in Syria where he began living a life dedicated to the care of the poor and the salvation of souls. But the three decades that he spent as a hermit in the desert stripped Simeon of any vanity and pride, and he wanted to ensure that his new life in the city would not be an occasion for these to return. And so Simeon did something unimaginable to most of us: he presented himself as a bumbling fool. He didn’t live or behave like other people and would often be found doing the most outrageous things, quickly becoming the joke of the town. Sometimes he would pretend to have a limp and other times he’d jump around as he walked down the street. Sometimes he would trip himself and other times he’d throw himself to the ground and thrash about. On one occasion he walked into the church, extinguished the candles, and began throwing nuts at the people who were praying there. On another occasion he was found dragging a dead animal by a leash around the city. And because of this, people sneered at him, insulted him, and even subjected him to beatings. Simeon caused quite a stir in Emesa, which is how he earned the name Simeon Salos – “salos” being the Greek word for “stir.” But he endured all of this with tremendous patience, realizing that his craziness would provide him with the cover he needed to set about doing the work of God without drawing the praise of the people. In secret, while the more worldly around him were not paying attention, Simeon fed the poor, preached the Gospel to the lowly, and helped many who were in need. He even cured diseases, healed the sick by his prayers, and performed many other miracles of mercy. But because he deliberately acted like a fool, no one in the city expected him to be saint, and he was able to quietly make a huge difference in the lives Emesa’s forgotten. It was only after his death that Simeon’s secret came to light, when his old friend John shared the words Simeon had spoken to him right before he died: “I beg you, never disregard a single soul, especially when it happens to be a monk or a beggar. For you know that Christ’s place is among the beggars, especially among the blind, people made as pure as the sun through their patience and distress. Show love of your neighbor, for this virtue – above all – will help us on the Day of Judgment.” It was then that the people of Emesa learned that they had been so wrong about Simeon Salos, the “crazy monk” as they so often referred to him, and they began to venerate him as a saint and to refer to him affectionately as the Holy Fool.

Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” These are the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians in our second reading today. These are the words that settled firmly into the heart of Simeon Salos and defined his life. These are words that should cause us to stop dead in our tracks right now and to evaluate our lives as Christian men and women. Are we deceiving ourselves when it comes to our faith? Are we trying to have our cake and eat it too? Are we seeking to deepen our love for God while simultaneously trying to earn the respect of the world and gain the praise of the crowds? Are we fools for Christ seeking to grow in His wisdom or do we consider ourselves wise in this age? Where are our priorities? Where are our hearts? What do we value most in this life? For two-thousand years people have attempted to follow Christ without becoming fools, and really what that brought them was nothing more than a Christ-less and a Cross-less social ethic masquerading as faith. Our readings today call us to much more. They call us to enter into the paradoxes revealed to us in Christ...paradoxes that the wise will shirk and the foolish will embrace. They call us into a new, radical, and heavenly way of life...into a life that will inevitably be seen as foolish by those who fashion themselves as wise.

How can we not be fools in the sight of this world when our Lord and Master was seen as the biggest fool of all? The Gospel presents us with a consistent picture: God’s plan for us, for our salvation, was and is infinitely more reckless, more absurd, and more foolish than even the bumblings of Saint Simeon Salos. From the very beginning, that God would create a world to love Him that He knew would so often not: foolish. That He would decide to enter into our midst and take on our flesh: foolish. That He would place the burden of His plan for salvation on the shoulders of a young teenage girl: foolish. That the God of the universe would make His dwelling in the womb of a Virgin, become a child born into poverty, and subject Himself to the cruelties and hardships of this world: foolish. That God-in-the-flesh would bother walking around Galilee changing water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, and spending His time with the poor, the meek, the lonely, the sick, and the forgotten: foolish. That He would tell His followers to turn the other cheek when wronged, to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them: foolish. That He would actually expect all of humanity to follow His commandments, to live lives of selflessness and sacrifice, and to love God and neighbor before themselves: foolish. That He would allow His own creation to nail Him to the wood of the Cross: foolish. That He would agonize for hours on the Cross and die one of the most embarrassing, horrific, and painful kinds of death: foolish. That He would rise from the dead, reveal Himself to a few, ascend into Heaven and then expect that people will follow Him despite the fact that they cannot see Him: foolish. That He would establish a Church that would be necessary for salvation yet filled with sinful and hypocritical people: foolish. Every bit of it, my friends, every bit of the Gospel, our Catholic Faith, and the salvation in Christ that we cling to is absolutely, totally, and completely foolish. But it is precisely because it is foolish that it has something, everything, to offer our very wise, but very dark world. It is only when we embrace the foolishness of our God, of our faith, that we’ll finally be able to see reality, to see truth, and to see that what we typically think is wise amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans in the sight of God.

I’m not suggesting that we all live like St. Simeon Salos, but I am saying that an authentically lived Christian life will result in us becoming, at least in the eyes of the world, like Holy Fools. It requires us to believe without seeing, to love without the promise that we’ll be loved in returned, to trust that life really only comes from death. Instead of trying to “normalize” ourselves in the eyes of the world, why don’t we become content being fools for Christ and try giving the world what it really needs: a good dose of crazy faith, a heaping portion of foolish hope, and a full measure of reckless love. 

St. Simeon Salos - the Holy Fool

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Preparing for the Race of Lent - A Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday

Saint Gregory the Great Latin Mass Chaplaincy
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Portland, Maine

Sermon for
Septuagesima Sunday

Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
February 12, 2017

“Do you not know that those who run in a race, all indeed run,
but one receives the prize? So run as to obtain it.”
1 Corinthians 9: 24

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the Rite of Holy Baptism as celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, there comes a beautiful and powerful moment immediately before the final profession of faith and the celebration of baptism proper. The Priest is instructed in the rubrics to dip his thumb in the oil of catechumens and to anoint the child in the form of a cross over the heart and on the back between the shoulders. I have had the opportunity to baptize several children in the Extraordinary Form, and interestingly enough this simple and rather quick part of the ceremony is one that always elicits many questions afterwards. No doubt it’s one of the more frustrating parts of the Sacrament for parents and godparents because it can be difficult to get to the heart and the back of a small child who is wrapped up in a baptismal gown and other baby layers, and so it inevitably occurs that they ask about the significance of this anointing. Using a paraphrased answer from the Catechism, I explain that, in the ancient world, oil is rich and multifaceted in its use and in its symbolism. As a cleaning agent, it was used before and after bathing as a way of drawing out impurities and hydrating the skin. As a healing agent, it was used to sooth bruises, cuts and other wounds. And as a limbering agent, it was used by athletes all over their bodies to improve their agility and dexterity in competition. The early Church, I explain, very quickly adopted the use of oil in the baptismal rite precisely because it so beautifully signifies what it is that God accomplishes in the soul in this great sacrament: He cleanses it from original sin, He soothes it and restores it to grace, and He limbers it, making it ready to run the great race through this valley of tears to its heavenly homeland. And while all of these realities are present in this first anointing, the Church focuses our attention most particularly on the latter. The whole notion that a soul reborn in Christ through baptism is likened to an athlete who must compete through this life to attain heaven comes to us directly from St. Paul himself, as we heard in our Epistle, and it forms the heart of our meditation today.

Writing to the Church in Corinth, St. Paul is addressing Christians who live in a city that hosts the Isthmian Games – the athletic competitions that were held the year before and the year after the Olympic Games. Corinth was particularly attached to these games and they became an important part of the identity and heritage of its citizens, but this became increasingly problematic for Christians because they were decidedly pagan in nature: they originated as the funeral games for Palaemon, a Greek god worshipped in the Roman Empire at the time. Knowing that the Christians in Corinth would have both a knowledge and love for these games, St. Paul attempts to redirect their attention to a greater game: the game of salvation in which Christ has made them all players. And he incites them in his first Epistle to them to consider themselves as athletes for Christ, who must keep their hearts and minds focused on the crown that awaits them...not the pine or olive wreath crown that would be awarded to the victors of the Isthmian games, but the crown of glory that would be offered to the Christian soul who fought the good fight. Attaining this imperishable crown would not be easy, because the athlete for Christ finds himself on a course with jagged terrain, high obstacles, and many temptations. Thus St. Paul begs the Corinthians, and he begs us, to be prepared for these difficulties by relying upon the grace of God and ensuring that we are in the best spiritual shape possible. He doesn’t want us to start running if we’re going to wimp out; he wants us to run so as to win, and to do this we must be prepared. We must temper our appetites, discipline our bodies, focus our souls, and put aside anything that might deter us from the crown that awaits us. And this is why we have that first anointing in the sacrament of baptism. It signifies the grace of God that makes a soul ready to embark on this race towards salvation, and placed symbolically placed over the entire body of the soon-to-be Christian soul, it empowers him to run forth towards Christ.

Today as we begin the season of Septuagesima – that blessed period of three-weeks before the start of Lent – we symbolically find ourselves at that moment of anointing in baptism. We take these three weeks to begin shedding our garments, our excesses, and our frivolities in order to prepare ourselves to run the race of Lent. If we are to enter into Lent well, if we are to fast diligently, pray intensely, and give alms faithfully, we must first cast off the fat of the winter feasts and begin to turn our attention to the Cross. Our liturgy begins helping us to do this...the Gloria is silenced, the Alleluia is buried, priest and altar are clad in somber violet, and the texts and the chants of the Mass take on a more penitential tone. With thankful hearts, we put aside the joys and the comforts of Christmastide, and we enter into the desert, into our own exile, until we reach the crown of Easter.

My friends, let us today rise from our feasting and begin training for the great fast. Let us allow our good God to cover us with His holy oil so as to awaken and stretch our spiritual muscles. Let us begin to deprive ourselves not only of the evils of this world, but also the goods so as to gain mastery over ourselves and our desires. Let us take an honest inventory of our spiritual lives and commit ourselves to strengthening them. Let us spend time daily meditating on the Scriptures, praying the rosary, and reading the lives of the saints. Let us be renewed in the Sacrament of Penance, refreshed with Holy Communion, and sustained by the dutiful practice of our religion. If we do these things, we will find ourselves well-prepared to begin the trials of Lent and thus ready to run so as to obtain the imperishable crown of glory.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Usefulness of Salt and Light - A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
February 5, 2017

In his great work Natural History, the ancient Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote, “Nothing is more useful than salt or sunlight.” The ancient world, the very world in which Jesus found Himself, was heavily reliant upon these two basic phenomena. Salt was essential not only as a spice, but as a preservative. As a commodity it was extremely valuable – in fact many cities throughout Europe and Asia rose to great prominence and power because of their proximity to salt mines. Because of salt, food could be flavored, meats could be preserved, and certain wounds could be healed. Light, whether the natural light of the sun or the harvested light of fire, had a value that is perhaps even more obvious. Not only was light essential for sight, it also warmed and protected. The daily rising of the sun brought the hope and promise that dangers could be clearly seen, crops could grow, and the earth itself could be warmed out of its nightly chill, and the light from fire ensured that nightly enemies could be kept at bay, food could be cooked, and the cold of winter could be thwarted. It is easy to see why an ancient mind like Pliny would be captivated to write what he did. And though more than two-thousand years separates us from the time he wrote, I would venture to say that the same still holds true for us today. Salt and light are essentials to life and without them disease, destruction, and even death itself would soon take over.

You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” These are the words that Jesus says to his disciples, to us, in today’s gospel. This is both a commentary and a command; a statement of fact and an exhortation.  On the one hand He is reminding us that like salt and light, He Himself is essential and indispensable in our lives and in the lives of all people, and because we have become so radically one with Him in our baptism, the same is true for us. As Christians we are Christ-bearers; our lives and our witness bear the mark of the Savior and because of this we are indeed true salt for the earth and true light for the world. And on the other hand He exhorts and commands us to be true to our divine mission; to make sure that, as salt, we do not become corrupted or bland, thus losing our usefulness, and to ensure that, as light, we do not become dull and hidden, thus losing our purpose.

As salt for the earth, we are called to a two-fold task: to preserve and to flavor. As Catholic Christians we are inheritors of a great tradition, a tradition that transcends culture and time. What has been handed on to us is not only the message of Jesus Christ, but the very reality of the Paschal Mystery. As St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “I have handed on to you as of first importance what I myself have received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.”  Our Lord entrusted the transmission of this reality to His Church that faith in Him may be passed on from one generation to the next. In this way we are all preservers…as we receive the gift of faith in baptism it becomes preserved and embodied in us, and we are called in turn to hand it on, pure and undefiled. In modern times it has become popular for the more “enlightened” and “scholarly” among us to “re-interpret” the noble tradition of our faith. This manifests itself, as Pope Emeritus Benedict says, as the tyranny of relativism – where individual people decide for themselves what is true and what is not true. But Jesus warns us against this; he exhorts us as the salt of the earth to preserve, to protect, and to safeguard rather than to reinterpret, reimagine, or recreate. It is our task and our duty to ensure that the faith that has been handed on to us is preserved from corruption in the same way that salt ensures that meat is preserved from spoiling. And at the same time, as salt of the earth we are called to flavor. The interesting thing about salt is that when it’s used as a spice, it doesn’t add a new flavor to food…it’s rather more of an enabler…it enables the true flavors of the food to be tasted more vibrantly and fully. Salt helps what otherwise would be bland to come back to life. As true followers of Christ, we are called to humbly invite all of creation to come back to life, to invite all people to discover and to rediscover their full potential and lasting perfection in Christ. And this we do gently, but surely and certainly…flavoring and adding a new burst of life wherever there is discord, complacency, and infidelity.

As light for the world, we are entrusted with another two-fold task: to illuminate and to warm. As Catholic Christians the same faith with which we have been entrusted to preserve is itself a great light, a light that illumines the dark recesses of our lives. Our Holy Father Pope Francis, in his very first encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith, speaks of this mystery in great detail, and calls us to meditate on the words of St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts.” A light greater than the sun burns in the hearts of those of us who believe, and it is precisely this light that can and will illuminate the world. The Prophet Isaiah in our first reading this morning beautifully describes what this looks like; he says, “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, remove oppression, rid yourself of false accusation and malicious speech, and satisfy the afflicted.” In other words, the light of faith within us, the light of the only Son of God burning in our hearts, is not meant to be contained within us but to shine out, effecting real change and growth in a desperate world. As the sun itself casts away the darkness and uncertainty of the night, as it brings forth new life and vegetation from the soil, we are called as the light of the world to cast away with our words, our actions, and the very witness of our lives every shadow of sin allowing true faith in turn to grow and prosper. And since this light is nothing other than the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, as the light of the world we are called to warm the cold and the chill that arises from unbelief, setting the world ablaze and afire with the selfsame love that warms us. This is a reminder for all of us that the light of faith must always be transmitted by and with and in the fire of true charity and love.

After our Lord ascended into heaven, leaving us to remain about on earth, He sent us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, that we might continue to be His enduring presence to all people. For this reason He graces us with the task and the privilege of being His salt for the earth and His light for the world. St. Teresa of Avila beautifully captures this mystery when she says, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world. And nothing, nothing, is more useful than salt and light.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

“That they may be one.” - A Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
January 22, 2017

“Christians, like snowflakes, are frail...but when they stick together they can stop traffic.” These words were first penned by the American author and preacher Vance Havner nearly half a century ago, but given the current climate in our country, in the world, and in the Church, and given the rather funny modern re-appropriation of the term “snowflake,” I believe that they are timely enough to repeat. Anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to think, and a heart to feel can say, undoubtedly, that there is a tremendous amount of division among us in our own day. Not just differences, not just distinctions, but real division: separateness, discord, and rupture. And while five minutes on Facebook or Twitter will reveal how true this is globally, five more minutes looking into our own lives will probably reveal divisions even more painful: divided families, broken marriages, severed relationships, etc. Everywhere we go, inside and outside our homes, we encounter person against person and heart against heart. The more self-righteous among us will be tempted to respond to this division by angrily pointing fingers, trying to find the first cause of it all and then seeking some kind of unattainable retribution from the presumed guilty party. The more defeatist among us will be tempted to respond by throwing in the towel and giving up on humanity. Both of these are inadequate responses to the pain caused by division. Division hurts...and it hurts because, in our guts, we know that we’re made for more. We know that discord in humanity was not and is not the Creator’s plan...He made us in His image and likeness, desiring us to be as truly and really united amongst ourselves as He is in Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And what’s more, He created us, both individually and collectively, to be united with Him. And yet our self-love, time and again, has thwarted all of this, resulting in an abundance of sin in this world of ours, tearing us apart from God and from each other. But instead of getting angry or depressed over this, we can take refuge in the reality that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. That’s what Havner is hinting at with his words, offering us both a truth and a challenge. The truth is that Christ has come into our broken, fractured world and has given to us the means by which to become whole and united again: in Him, in His Body, the Church. The challenge for us is to use our own free wills with the grace we have received to unite ourselves more and more to the Mystical Body of Christ. The solution to the division we see in the world is not just to boost up our tolerance and to become more accepting and “open,” but rather to become more like Christ, more one with Him. This is what gives us the power to put the brakes on the speeding train of sin and division and, as Havner says, to stop traffic.

In our second reading today, St. Paul is exhorting the early Christians in Corinth to accept and to conform their lives to this truth...the truth that Jesus Christ – and He alone – is the source of any hoped for unity in this broken world. He gets a little tough with them, calling them out for their rivalries and disagreements, and beckons them to keep their eyes and hearts focused on Christ Crucified. Paradoxically, it is the division of Christ’s body and blood on the Cross, the tearing apart of God-in-the-Flesh, the complete and utter sacrifice of His own self, that gives birth to a new and everlasting reality for mankind: a way to be united, a way to be one, a way to be whole with God, and with each other, in Christ. The sacrifice of His body on the Cross brings about the new life of His body, the Church, and offers to the entire world the reconciliation it hungers and thirsts for. St. Paul wants to make sure that the Corinthians, and we by extension, understand this reality and embrace it, but he also wants us to be aware of the great cost of the unity offered to the world in Christ: sacrifice, the laying down of one’s own life. Those of us who wish to be made one in Christ’s body, those of us who truly wish to be united to our God and our neighbor, must follow where the Master Himself has gone...we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, to lay down our self-love, and offer our lives as a sacrifice of love for God and for one another.

In the last year of his life, St. Thomas Aquinas went to the city of Naples to preach a series of sermons during Lent. One of these sermons focused entirely on the Apostle’s Creed and St. Thomas, systematically, went through each of the articles. While reflecting on the article concerning the Church, he devoted a good bit of time to speaking about the unity of the Church: how this unity is caused in the first place and how it continues to cause greater unity. He posited that the unity of the Church arises from the three-fold virtues of faith, hope, and love, each of which is a participation in the sacrifice of Christ’s Cross. Faith, he says, is the first thing that binds the Church together, because “all Christians who are of the body of Christ believe the same doctrine.” This requires the sacrifice of our egos and the ability to subject our intellects to the truths of Divine Revelation. Hope, he says, is the second thing that binds the Church together, because all Christians who are of the body of Christ share in the joyful expectation of eternal life. This requires us to sacrifice our pessimism and our attachment to purely worldly things. And finally, St. Thomas says that love is the third thing that binds the Church together, because all Christians should see that the love God has for them individually is a love that extends to all people without exception, and that this love – a sacrificial love indeed – is the truest sign of a person’s new life in Christ. But this requires the sacrifice of our whole selves, willingly and even joyfully putting the love of God and the love of our neighbor before the love of our selves. These three virtues, lived out perfectly by Christ, keep the Church united and one. And when we, who are the members of the Body of Christ, can live them out in our own day and time, we further and expand the Church’s unity, eliminating the division and discord in our world one heart at a time.

Before ascending onto the altar of His Cross, Jesus cried out in prayer to His Father, “Keep them in Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one just as We are one.” My friends, these are the words we are called to live by. These are the words that give our world the hope it so desperately needs. If you and I do our part, if we sacrifice ourselves daily to excel by grace in the virtues of faith, hope, and love, for the sake of God and our neighbor, then what is separated can become whole again, what is divided can become one. At this Holy Mass today, let us pray for the strength to lay down our lives, to conform ourselves to Christ Crucified, and pray, with Him, that we may all be one. Fragile as we may be, together we can stop traffic.

Friday, January 13, 2017

“Love, and then do what you will.” - A Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
January 15, 2017

There’s a story that has been told by some that, during the Civil War, a group of ministers had invited Abraham Lincoln to join them at a prayer breakfast. Of course the realities of the war were weighing on everyone’s minds, and so it happened during the course of the event that one of the ministers purportedly said to him, “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side.” The President was silent for a moment...perhaps to think, perhaps caught up in the seriousness of the situation, perhaps even to pray...but then, breaking his silence, he said candidly, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Whether or not this conversation actually took place is neither here nor there, but it certainly puts into words one of the great struggles that does plague the human soul: how do we know if we’re actually serving God or really just serving ourselves? How do we know if we’re on “God’s side” as opposed to just setting up a side of our own? How do we know if what we will is truly what God wills? The temptation for us here, as people of faith, is to spend our whole lives trying to figure out what’s going on in the divine mind of God, trying to figure out His will as if it were some cosmic puzzle for us to put together. 99.9999% of the time this will prove to be fruitless...we will just end up frustrated and discouraged, and our spiritual lives will become stagnant as we hesitate to do anything unless we know for sure that God’s wills it: I won’t go to the seminary unless I know for sure God wants me to be a priest; I won’t marry this man unless I know for sure God’s wills it to be; I won’t go on that mission trip, or take that new job, or do anything of importance unless God makes it perfectly and abundantly clear that it’s His will. Certainly the goal of the Christian life is to place ourselves before the presence of God in radical openness and cry out as we did in our Psalm today, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will!” but how can we do what so easily evades or is unknown to us?

It was St. Augustine who, in my opinion, gave the best piece of advice to those struggling with knowing and doing the will of God. In one of his great sermons, he said: “Once and for all, I give you this one short command: love, and then do what you will.” It seems like a reckless thing to say, doesn’t it? It’s as if Augustine is giving permission for us to shirk the will of God and to simply run off into the sunset doing whatever we want. But far from doing this, Augustine is bringing us to understand that knowledge of God’s will doesn’t come from trying to get into His mind, but rather by allowing Him to get into our hearts. Jesus Christ boiled down the whole of God’s law to two commandments: that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Now of course there is a lot contained in these commandments – our adherence to the natural moral law, the teachings of the Church, the avoidance of sin, living a life of virtue, etc. – but what Augustine is getting at here is that if we have fulfilled these commandments, if we have loved, then it follows necessarily that we have both known and accomplished the will of God. God’s absolute and perfect will has been made known to us by means of revelation – through Holy Scripture and though Sacred Tradition – and thus if we can live our lives in accordance with these realities and thus enter into true love for God and neighbor, God’s will for us – a will that ultimately is ordered towards our salvation – has been accomplished. And it is from this, and only from this, that Augustine can tell us, “and then do what you will.” Think of the amazing freedom we have here: so long as our lives are conformed to these two commandments and all they contain, you and I are radically free to choose how we will live! Thus discerning God’s will has less to do with trying to figure out His plan, and more about figuring out whether we are truly living in the freedom that comes from loving Him. And that’s where the real work of the Christian life is to be found: getting very serious about true and real love.

God created us in freedom and He created us with a will that is free, and His permissive will allows us to exercise this freedom for good or for evil. And He wants us to exercise our free will to grow closer to Him, to love and know what is true, and good, and beautiful...but He doesn’t want us to do so according to some master plan He’s mapped out that we’ve somehow figured out. He wants us to be radically free, and as long as we have truly loved Him and our neighbor, we can indeed do whatever else we will. We can climb Mt. Everest, open a business, become a priest, marry the person of our dreams, and on and on and on. “Let the root of love be in you,” Augustine goes on to say, “nothing can spring from it but good.”

God cares about every second of your life, and every little detail of it. And He knows perfectly and absolutely the best way for you to spend every moment. His particular plan for you, the only plan He has, is that you will take every moment as an opportunity to love Him and your neighbor as fully as possible. The best decisions in life for us, the right way to go, fulfilling God’s plan for us, will always be those things that lead us to deeper and greater love. That’s where the work of discernment takes place...and this is how we know if we’re doing the will of God. Let us pray at this Holy Mass for the grace to see how very free we are and then for the strength to use this freedom to become one of will with our good God.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Christ is Truth and He has made Himself Known - A Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Epiphany of the Lord

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
January 8, 2017

Truth. What do you think of when you hear this word? In our world today it has, ironically, become a word that can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. For some, truth is correctness, being in accord with fact: two plus two equals four and this is always and undeniably true. For others, truth is authenticity, being in accord with one’s own self: I know who I am and I am going to be true to that. And still for others, truth is simply whatever a person perceives or experiences or wishes to experience in this life. A lot of ink has been spilt on this for thousands of years...from philosophers to farmers, from theologians to scientists, from kings to peasants, humankind has grappled with what truth is, if it is, how it can be known, and if it can be known. It is good and noble and pleasing for us to pursue these questions with vigor, but it is not for us to do right now. Here, during this Holy Mass, as the Church celebrates the great Epiphany of the Lord, we are reminded that truth is more than a word to ponder or a concept to explore. Truth is a Person to love...and His name is Jesus, Who is the Christ. 

The theological and spiritual significance of this feast is simply that God has been made manifest, He has appeared to us in the flesh of the Babe of Bethlehem, the Child of Nazareth, the One Who is called Jesus. In Christ, God is immediately accessible to His own creation: He is touchable, seeable, knowable, and lovable. And this manifestation is not simply available to a select few, but for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear, for anyone who is ready and willing to have their minds and hearts expanded beyond their wildest dreams. At first He was known only to the meek and poor of the House of Israel: a maiden from Nazareth, her carpenter husband, and a handful of shepherds. But today we celebrate that God-in-the-flesh desires to make Himself known by all people of every land and nation. The Magi – who tradition has called Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar – have arrived at the Christmas crib on bended knee. Coming from the East, they have not heard of the God of Israel, the God Who had revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they have not received the law from Moses nor have they received the words of the Prophets nor have they longed for the coming of a Messiah as the people of Israel have. They have come to the Christ Child not because they saw in Him the fulfillment of prophecy, but because He called them to Himself. The all-pervading presence of God in the world was increasingly becoming so overwhelmingly obvious to them that these wise men from afar couldn’t stay away. Deep in their souls they knew – they just knew – that every bit of wisdom they had pursued in the past and every bit of truth they had desired to grasp could be found fulfilled, in its entirety, in the fragile flesh of a small Child cradled in His mother’s arms. And so they came, crying out with humble joy that they were ready to receive and to accept and to embrace – on behalf of peoples everywhere – the One Who had made Himself manifest. And through their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they offered Him the greater gift of their loving acceptance of His kingship, His divinity, and His humanity. These Magi remind us today, by means of their humility, their journey, and the homage they paid to the Christ Child, that truth is more accessible in this life than we can imagine, and that the reason we desire it so much is because it – He – desires us.

Moments before sending Christ off to His death, Pontius Pilate looked into His eyes and asked Him, “What is truth?” O the irony of ironies! Truth was looking straight at him and Pilate was blind to it. His eyes were opened and yet he couldn’t see...his ears were opened and yet he couldn’t hear. If Pilate had even an ounce more of humility, He would have realized that his soul was stirring before its Creator...but he was stubborn, and afraid, and proud. He couldn’t let go at that moment of whatever it was that he was holding on to and so He missed the opportunity given to Him to see the Truth, to be seen by the Truth, to love the Truth, and to be loved by the Truth.

Every person on the face of this earth is given the same opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We can be like Pilate if we choose and turn a blind eye to Him. We can reject His teachings in our own arrogance; we can reject His love in our own love of self; we can reject His goodness in our own sin. Or we can be like the Magi and dare to see Him as He is. We can allow Him to reveal Himself to us – which He does through His Church – and so expand our minds and our hearts, and grant us the precious gift of His salvation. The choice is ours.

On this great feast of the Epiphany, as we find ourselves struggling to stay afloat in the difficulties and complexities of this life, let us take refuge in the reality that God is with us, that He has taken on flesh, that He has made Himself known, and that nothing we do in this life matters more than our response to Him. We could be poor, sick, lonely, and abandoned, and yet if we give in to the amazing simplicity of God’s love for us in Christ, we will have everything we have ever desired.