Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Meekness and Docility of Mary: A Homily for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Solemnity of Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

Homily
January 1, 2015
The Meekness and Docility of Mary

The year of our Lord 2014 has passed away before our eyes, never to be seen again. All 12 months of it…all 52 weeks, 365 days, 8,765 hours, 525,949 minutes, and 31,556,926 seconds. A year of opportunities and a year of let downs…a year of immense joy, and a year of tragedy. How did you do this past year? Would you consider it a “success” or a “failure”? And what are the criteria you’ll use to make this judgment? The amount of money you made? The vacations you took and the memories you formed? The promotion you got or the retirement package you were offered? The grades on your report card or the driver’s license you got? The relationship you’ve been in? Your health? All of these things can certainly contribute to a better or a worse year…and we’ll all, no doubt, resolve to fix whatever we fouled up in 2014 so that 2015 can be the best yet. I would propose, however, that there is only a single criterion that unequivocally determines whether the year 2014 can go down in our history books as a success or a failure. Without it, every other good thing becomes meaningless, and with it, every bad thing becomes meaningful. Ask yourself this question and answer it with brutal honesty: have you grown closer to Christ?

The Mystery of Christmas reveals to us, by means of the face of a small child, that God is not an abstract idea or a distant divine mover…He is as personal as He is transcendent. The Mighty God, the Creator of the stars of night, the source and origin of all that has been, is, and will be, is the Babe of Bethlehem. Born into our midst, God took on flesh, making it abundantly clear to all of us that He wishes to be loved by us, that He wishes to be in relationship with us, that He wants us to draw closer to Him. This love, this relationship, this closeness with Him doesn’t simply give meaning to our mundane lives, not does it serve to fix what’s going wrong in our lives…it is our salvation, the means by which Christ raises us up from our earthly existence and makes us true sons and daughters of God. This gift of salvation is freely offered to all, but we must choose, every second of every day, to accept it, to cooperate with it, and to allow it transform us. How have you done with this during the past year? If you’re like me, there have been many ups and downs. Some days I want nothing more than to foster and build my relationship with Christ and to glory in His gift of salvation…other days, I want nothing more than to serve myself and my own wants, desires, and ambitions. There’s only room for one God in my life…and if I’m serving myself, or something or someone else, I cannot simultaneously grow closer to Christ. We all have the choice…who did I choose to love the most this past year? If the answer is not Christ, then we need to take a step back and make some changes. And even if the answer is Christ, we can and must learn to love Him more completely and fully.

As we barrel into the New Year, the Church provides us with today’s solemnity to help give us some perspective into this dynamic. On the first day of the year, we are given the opportunity to consider and reflect upon the example of the pure, whole, and complete love that the Blessed Virgin Mary has for Her Divine Son. No priest or pope, no disciple or apostle, no saint or angel loved Christ as perfectly as the maiden of Nazareth. Chosen by God the Father to be the vessel by which God the Son would take on Flesh, this beautiful, but lowly creature became the Mother of God…and in her motherly tenderness and care, she shows us what it means to forsake all else to grow closer to Christ. If we ourselves wish to endeavor to attain greater unity with Christ in the coming year, to give Him ourselves more completely and fully, it would be foolish, reckless, and useless to attempt to do so without turning to Mary.

As we know from the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was indeed uniquely blessed and graced by God, Who preserved her from original sin in order that she might more beautifully and freely cooperate with His plan for salvation…but her ongoing example of holiness and virtue is certainly and necessarily something we can imitate. In our Gospel today, two particular virtues stand out…her meekness and her docility. We will get nowhere in our relationship with Christ in the coming year if we do not become as meek and docile as the Blessed Virgin…these virtues are the preliminary and prerequisite virtues for growing in holiness.

Meekness, as a matter of definition, is a virtue that moderates anger. Those who are meek do not become inordinately angry when harm is done to them or when situations become stressful or unbearable. Meekness, then, in a true sense, instills within the soul a deep tranquility. Mary’s entire life presented opportunities for her to become overwhelmed and angry…from the Angel’s message, to the stress of the Christmas crib, to the death of Christ on the cross. But Mary was meek and lowly…she approached each and every situation with a tranquility of spirit that allowed her to accept and to trust in the power of Divine providence. How often do we let inordinate anger, over big things or little things, actually prevent us from turning to God? A loved one with cancer, the loss of a job, or getting cut off in traffic...these, and so many other situations, can rouse up a mighty anger in us, all of which comes from our lack of control and a perceived injustice. Meekness is about giving up control and daring to trust that Christ alone, in ways we may not understand, can and will make all things right and new. A relationship with Christ that is capable of growing must begin with this kind of meekness. No one wanted Christ off of the Cross more than Mary, but in her meekness she trusted in His plan and gave in to His will. We must learn to the do the same if we are to grow closer to Him.

Docility, as a matter of definition, is a virtue that enables us to be taught. Docility is the great conqueror of the all-American vice of self-sufficiency. “It’s my way or the highway!” or “I don’t care what anyone else says” attitude presents us with the false belief that we, in ourselves, are capable of figuring it all out. Not only is thus blatantly untrue when it comes to the things of this earth, it is even more untrue when it comes to the things of heaven, to eternal truths. Christ comes to us as our teacher, He gives us His Bride the Church as our teacher, in order to show us the truth and to open our finite minds to things that are infinite. Mary herself knew that the mysteries taking place in her life were far beyond her own human understanding…but her docility of spirit enabled her to open herself up to God and to present herself as His pupil. Docility leads to deep meditation and prayer…as Mary herself did, pondering these mysteries in her heart. We cannot expect to grow closer to Christ if we are unwilling to actually learn from Him.

A true relationship with Christ requires us in give in…and the meekness and the docility of the Blessed Virgin shows us what this entails. Let’s resolve in this coming year, through her holy intercession, to advance in these virtues, so that we can grow closer to her Son.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rejoice...Always? A Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Third Sunday of Advent – Year B

Homily
December 14, 2014

Joy…a simple three-letter word expressing a movement in the spirit that is so often hard to come by in these dark days. It’s a word that’s found no fewer than 66 times throughout the New Testament, but in our own vocabularies it’s used rather sparingly. So many of us are just trying to get by on a daily basis…we put smiles on our faces and make valiant attempts to be pleasant and even bubbly when the situation calls for it, but there’s a heaviness that weighs on us. Sickness and illness, financial difficulties, marital problems, rebellious or ungrateful children, failed relationships, betrayals, lingering guilt and shame, school or workplace difficulties, broken homes, substance abuse, even death…these and so many other realities and occurrences dampen our spirits and cast us into profound sorrow. About 10% of adults in America suffer from some form of depression…suicide is on the rise…and people are increasingly turning to alcohol and drugs to help dull the pain in their lives. So when St. Paul tells us in our second reading this morning to “Rejoice always,” how can we even begin to take him seriously? The joy that most of us experience is just too often short-lived.
 
St. Paul’s no fool though…and he wasn’t exactly exempt from sorrow and pain in his life. He no doubt had to live with the daily guilt and the shame for his role in persecuting Christians. He knew what it was like to be thrown in to the wrenches of poverty and to toil for his daily bread. He knew the bitter sting of betrayal. He underwent multiple beatings. He suffered from loneliness and, at times, some pretty severe anxiety. And he wasn’t afraid to share all of this in his many different letters now contained in the New Testament. St. Paul knew what it was to suffer, and to suffer intensely, and still he could bring himself to be joyful and to command us to do the same. Maybe there’s more to joy than meets the eye…and maybe the presence of sorrow in our lives, even intense sorrow, does not necessitate the absence of joy.
 
St. Thomas Aquinas speaks about joy at length. Joy, he says, is the primary fruit of love. It’s not giddiness and it’s not contentment…it’s not feeling wonderful and it’s not satisfaction. Joy is an elation of the soul that is caused by love. When we are in the presence of something we love, or when the proper good of something we love exists and endures in us, the result is joy. Conversely, sorrow is also caused by love…or rather, by its absence. When we are somehow denied the presence of something we love, or when the proper good of something we love no longer exists or endures in us, the result is sorrow. Test this theory on a small child. Give him a toy and watch him beam with joy. Then take it away and watch him cry in sorrow. The presence of the toy brought the child joy because, at that moment, the child loved the toy…but when you took it away from him, the absence of what he loved caused him sorrow.  


His suffering was great...but His joy was even greater.
 
It may seem too simplistic, but it’s often the case that so much of our sorrow, and the absence of joy in our lives, is a result of our misplaced love. Sometimes it’s really base…like children, we give too much of our love to “toys;” sometimes it’s not so base, and we give our love to other people and subsequently get hurt when it’s taken away. The reality is, whether they’re good things or whether or they’re bad things, if we put our love only in the things of this earth, it is only a matter time before we are cast into sorrow, because everything in this earth is passing. But if we love the things that are eternal, if we love the things of God, we need not fear ever losing them. For this reason, the Christian can always be joyful…even if he is sorrowful over the loss of the things of this earth, if he truly loves God, if he truly gives God his love and accepts God’s love in return, then true and lasting joy can be his.
 
St. Paul’s exhortation today, that we rejoice always, is not a pep talk nor is it friendly encouragement…it’s a call to love. He tells us to rejoice always, which is a round-about way of telling us to place our first and primary love in God. Everything else is guaranteed, sooner or later, to fail us. But if we love God above all things…above our checkbooks, our health, our relationships, our jobs, all things…then even in the midst of profound sorrow we will be joyful. This is why Lord tells us in the Matthew’s Gospel, “He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.”

Today, on this Gaudete Sunday, this Sunday of rejoicing as we trudge nearer and nearer to the Christmas Crib, let us rededicate ourselves to the love of God. Whatever is preventing us from loving Him, let us pray for the strength to let go of it. Today let’s ask for the strength to let go of the things of this world and to hold fast to the things of God, indeed to God Himself. Because the more we cling to Him, the more perspective we’ll be given to the passing nature of our earthly loves and the suffering they cause, and then we can learn to be ever more joyful in the great and enduring gift of His eternal love.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you: A Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
 
Homily
December 8, 2014
"Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you"
 
I’ve always been perplexed by the last line of today’s gospel: “Then the angel departed from her.” We have just finished hearing an incredible story about how the angel of the Lord drops in on Mary, completely out of the blue and unannounced, and asks her to do the most unfathomable task: to be the Mother of God. Despite both her fear and her confusion, Mary offers herself completely to the will of God and says, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” She agrees, she offers a resounding YES! And what does the angel do immediately after? He leaves. There’s no, “Thanks for your cooperation, we’ll be in touch” or any kind of response. He just departs, leaving Mary to herself.
 
This is a startling image: a young girl, who no doubt had her own plans in life, now has her entire life turned upside down. The burden of God’s plan for salvation is placed upon her shoulders. And the angel just left her. How incredibly frightened she must have been…how completely alone she must have felt.
 
Sometimes we feel this way. I know I certainly do. I did when I lost my grandmother and it felt like the world was caving in around me. Maybe we feel this way because we lost our job, or are facing a divorce, maybe we’re suffering through a serious illness, or maybe we’re dealing with the betrayal of a friend. We know what it’s like to be frightened, to be left alone with our thoughts and fearful of what comes next.
 
With this image in our mind from today's gospel, of Mary left alone and probably pretty scared, it seems odd that we are celebrating the Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception, the reality that from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb Mary was completely preserved from all sin. Sometimes it’s tempting to think of Mary’s sinlessness as something that separates her from us...we can exalt her to the point that she seems almost un-human. But despite her sinlessness, Mary shares in the full experience of being human. I think that’s why the Church gives us this Gospel reading for tonight’s feast – to remind us of Mary’s own humanity and her own fragility.
 
Though she was sinless from the moment of her conception, Mary is still the woman facing an unexpected pregnancy. Mary is still the young girl realizing that all of her plans and dreams have changed. Mary is still the teenager who fears isolation and unacceptance. Mary is still the anxious mother searching for her missing child. Mary is still the widow watching her son face a violent and unjust execution. Mary is the sinless Mother of God, but she still knows what it feels like to be confused, uncertain, scared, and alone.
 
As exalted and unique as Mary is, she is just as human as we are. But because of her unique status and role, she becomes a model for us and she teaches us how to handle the burden of our own humanity.
 
Despite everything she had to deal with, Mary continued to trust in God. At any moment she could have felt a sense of her own isolation, but she focused on the message of the angel: “The Lord is with you.” These words really meant something to her and they gave her the strength to bear all that was asked of her. For her these words meant that nothing would be impossible to bear, for God would always be with her no matter how tough things became and no matter how alone she felt.
 
In every Mass we hear over and over again the same greeting that Mary heard: the Lord be with you. We, like that young girl, are given the chance to allow these words to resound in our hearts. By these words we are given the reassurance that our lives are not lived in isolation – God promises us that no matter how lonely, or helpless, or worried, or frightened we feel, we mean everything to Him. And in our times of trial, Mary consoles us with the same words that once consoled her: “Don’t be afraid…you have found favor with God”?
 
Because we’re human, we suffer. Being a follower of Christ, finding favor with God, doesn’t mean we are promised a cushy life. Mary shows us this…as favored as she was, despite her own sinlessness, she still suffered as we do. We can’t escape our suffering, but Mary’s example shows us that we never truly suffer alone. After all, even though the angel departed from her, the unborn Christ Child lay hidden in her womb. In our moments of fear and suffering, will we, like Mary, dare to see that the Lord, hidden as He is, is still with us?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Virtues of St. John the Baptist: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Second Sunday of Advent – Year B

Homily
December 7, 2014
The Virtues of St. John the Baptist

Every family has one of them: an unkempt, eccentric, basement-dwelling cousin who is freakishly intelligent but lacking in all, or most, social skills. He’ll awkwardly avoid conversation with anyone at the family reunion or around the Thanksgiving table, but if you only happen to mention one of his triggers, he’ll talk your ear off for hours. Make a passing comment about Star Wars and he’ll corner you to tell you all about the Storm Trooper helmet he made from cereal boxes or his plans for Comic Con 2015. Bring up how you took the kids to the see the Hobbit and you’re in for a 5-hour long discourse on the precise use of CGI (computer-generated imagery) in all of the Tolkien films. He’s not the first person you’d want to give the toast at your wedding, or that you’d ask to babysit the kids…but, in his own unique way, he brings something important and refreshing to your life.

Our Lord’s own family was not without its own such relative… St. John the Baptist, the cousin of the Lord, fit that bill pretty well. He was certainly unkempt, with his camel hair tunic and leather belt. He was definitely eccentric…not only in his appetite of locusts and wild honey, but in his overall personality. And maybe he didn’t live in a basement, but he did live in the wilderness, which is hardly a step up. John wasn’t interested in tedious table talk or playing a game of flag football with the other boys. He had one thing on his mind, and it truly and utterly consumed him. From the day that he met his divine cousin, leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, John would become single-minded in his devotion to Christ. Nothing else could distract him; nothing else could bring him a sense of satisfaction or worth. This was, of course, so that he could fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah and be that lone voice crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths. And people took notice of this…they saw past his eccentricity and were compelled by his passion.
 
As we trudge our way through these darkened days of Advent, John the Baptist certainly has much to offer us in his preaching. He exhorts us to repent, to turn away from our sin, and to look for the coming of the Lord. And these things we must do we great urgency, for the day of the Lord is surely at hand. But John also has much to offer us by means of his personal witness. I’d like to suggest that there are three particular virtues or attributes that the Baptist has that are worthy of our emulation and can help us wander to the Christmas Crib with greater ease.

The first is his humility. John the Baptist’s humility is not caught up in anything external. He is not humble because he wears camel skin or eats a poor man’s diet. He is humble because he knows who he is and who he is not. Imagine the temptation…great crowds were coming to him from all over and they began to think that maybe he was the one they had waited for, the long-promised Messiah…John could have very easily fed into the hype and made a name for himself, but he does not. He says instead, “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” The word “humility” comes from the Latin “humilitas” which is derived from the word “humus” which means “earth” or “ground.” Humility is thus about groundenness…being grounded in the truth of who we are. Had John fallen into one of the opposing vices of humility, pride or false humility, he would have failed to do the Lord’s bidding. If he were proud, he would have made himself out to be the Messiah. If he were falsely humble, he would have shirked from his noble responsibility. But John was truly and really humble, indeed the magnanimous man, because he knew who he was and who he was not, and so with a roaring voice he paved the way of the Lord. Following in the footsteps of the Baptist, we should be on our guard against the vices of pride and false humility; either one of these will prevent us from recognizing the Lord when He comes.

The second is his steadfastness. Not to tip my hat in any way to modern pop culture, but John the Baptist came in like a wrecking ball. He had one direction and one purpose…and no one would be able to dissuade him or throw him off his course. This steadfastness, grounded of course in his humility, allowed him to forsake any and all temporal desires for the sake of announcing the nearness of the Lord’s coming. He was unconcerned with maintaining house and hearth…indeed he had neither…and he was unconcerned with placating the desires of the people or looking good in their eyes. Stripped of anything that would hinder him from his mission, the Baptist plowed into Judea and made his message known with clarity and vigor. What hinders us from announcing the Lord’s coming? Our preoccupation with our material goods or the fear of losing them? An inordinate love of ourselves or of another? The desire to be admired by others? Whatever it is, the Baptist shows us by his steadfastness that only the unencumbered have the freedom necessary to prepare the way for and point to the Lord.

The third is his Christ-centeredness. John the Baptist, as humbly magnanimous and steadfast as he was, drew all of his purpose and meaning not from a notion, or a proposition, or an idea…but rather from a Person. John encountered the Christ Child when each were in their mother’s wombs…he encountered Truth itself in the Person of Christ, and this alone would become his driving force. He was so utterly and completely convinced that the joy he first experienced upon meeting the Lord was a joy that could be experienced by all…a joy that could pierce through the bitter trials of life, that could bring everlasting light into the darkness caused by sin. Thus he did not affirm people where they were at…he called them out of sin and complacency so that their lives could be completely and utterly changed by Christ. Do we worship a proposition or do we worship a Person? Do we come here to make ourselves feel better or so that we can convince ourselves that we’re good people? Do we use Christ as a means to another end, or do we love Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Like John the Baptist, we too can and indeed must make the choice to have Christ as the center and whole of our lives…or we’re just playing church.

St. John the Baptist…the unkempt, eccentric, desert-dwelling, socially awkward cousin of the Lord has much to offer us this Advent. We might be tempted to avoid him, as we do our own relatives who don’t quite fit into our social arenas. But if we open ourselves up to him, if we emulate his virtues of humility, steadfastness, and Christ-centeredness, we are sure to see the Lord when He comes and to love Him with the same kind of eccentric passion.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lord, Make Us Turn to You: A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
First Sunday of Advent – Year B

 
Homily
November 30, 2014
“Lord, Make us Turn to You”

The days are noticeably shorter and darker. That cold northern wind blows its frozen breath everywhere we go. The snow and the ice are piling up all around. These are the stark realities of winter, and whether we like it or not, it will be like this for some time yet. So we stoke up the fireplace and turn up the furnace; we put on double layers of clothing; we nestle under fleece blankets and burn our tongues with piping hot cocoa. We’ll do whatever we must to chase the bitter sting of winter away, lessening its chilly blow and countering its icy cold attack with warmth and merriment. It’s good that we do these things…we might not survive otherwise. But the harshness of winter is not simply a long annual inconvenience that we try to make the best of…it’s a reminder. Nature itself, whose author is the Lord God Almighty, reflects the inner struggle and turmoil of the human condition. Just as nature undergoes periods that are severe and harsh, so too is it the case with the human heart. The power of sin affects and infects our lives, in very obvious ways and sometimes in subtle ways. An adulterous affair can ruin a family just as fast and devastatingly as a tornado can rip apart a house…but even a little bit of hatred can destroy one’s own heart as thoroughly and subtly as a slight, but constant temperature change can destroy an entire crop. Abortion, murder, idolatry, blasphemy, fornication, missing Sunday Mass, perjury, envy, hatred, pride, lying…these and so many other sins that we and others commit surround us. Sometimes they are obvious and sometimes they are not, but they are present, creating storms and harsh winters, wreaking havoc and destroying lives. They make our days shorter and darker, and like snow and ice, they just keep piling up. We know how to chase the sting of winter away…but do we know where to turn to warm ourselves up in the winter that is sin?

Many people consider Advent to be the proximate preparation for the great feast of Christmas. This is not untrue. We make Advent wreaths and calendars to count down the days and the weeks…we shop and bake and decorate our homes…we visit family members…we even immerse ourselves in Scripture reading and reflect on the wonderful stories surrounding the birth of the Christ Child. These are all wonderful and important things…but, if we let it, Advent does something more. It situates us in the muck of sin, helping us to become more and more aware of the iciness that infects our own souls, and then it orients us…it turns us to Christ, the all-consuming light Who alone can conquer the misery of our darkness. No amount of Christmas cheer, or good deeds, or personal resolutions to become a better person can accomplish in the human heart what Christ alone can do. If we are to survive the winter of sin, we must turn to the Lord.

The words of our Responsorial Psalm this morning convey the urgency of this. In desperation we cry out, “Lord, make us turn to You; let us see Your face and we shall be saved. We know that without our King of Glory, without our Prince of Peace, there is no hope…but He has promised Himself to us, and because of this, with eagerness we look to His coming. The Babe of Bethlehem is God in the Flesh…with a name and with a face. The Mystery and the Miracle of Christmas is that, in Jesus Christ, God can be looked upon. Advent, if we let it, can orient us and turn us towards Him.

But this is not an abstract thing, nor is it a lovely sentiment. Turning to the Lord is an actual and deliberate activity…it is physical and it is spiritual. As human beings, orientation is written into our very make-up. We have a front and a back…we can physically turn towards something. We have a will…we can orient our minds and our hearts towards something. But we cannot have it both ways. If we turn towards something, it necessarily means that we turn away from something else…we cannot face two directions at the same time. But because of the weakness of our wills and the erraticism of our attention spans, we spend our lives doing something of a dance…we turn in circles, looking about at everything: good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and sin. The more disciplined and holy among us, the saints, have figured out that this dance can be stopped…and, in fact, that it must be stopped. An athlete orients himself towards health and physical perfection…it’s not at all easy, but when he focuses and wills it, he does it. He eats healthy and exercises much, and studies better ways to do both. He avoids certain luxuries and extravagances. He carves out the time necessary to accomplish his goal. A life of holiness is quite similar, but with one exception: we don’t orient ourselves towards a thing, but to a Person. And to turn towards Him means we make our entire lives about Him…we live for love of Him. It means spending time with Him every day in prayer. It means avoiding anything and anyone that would lead us away from Him. It means putting Him first and everything else, no matter how good and fulfilling, second…whether it be family, soccer, work, the mall, the beach, you name it. Because if we turn to other things, it means we cannot be completely turned towards Him…and if we’re not turned towards Him, our only light and our only warmth, then it’s only a matter of time before we’ll freeze in the winter of sin.

So as we begin these days of Advent, make the choice to turn towards the Lord. Take a good and honest inventory of your life: what do you turn towards and does it prevent you from turning to Him? If it does, it has to go. Whether it’s a sin, a memory, an attitude, a relationship, whatever it is…ask the Lord today, in this Holy Mass, to help you give it up. We are not strong enough to do this on our own…we need the Lord’s help to turn to Him: His grace, His healing, His mercy, His love. Bundle yourself up in these garments of warmth, and then trudge your way through the dark and somber days of Advent. The Christ Child, He Who is the King of Glory, awaits…turn towards Him and you shall be saved.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poverty, Persecution, and Humility: the Standards of Christ the King

Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou
The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ the King – Year A

Homily
November 23, 2014

In 2012, people from all over the world, myself included, had the opportunity to watch or participate in any number of the events surrounding the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th Anniversary, of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The entire affair was a spectacle to be sure…the charm of the British Monarchy captured the world for a season, delighting our senses with an array of majesty, pomp, and royal finery. The Royal Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton celebrated in April of the prior year only helped to prime and wet our appetites for months of popular fascination with all things British and all things royal. After a bit of time, the hype died down, as it always does, and self-identified modern men and women returned to the daily grind of a more “progressive” and “realistic” way of living. Regardless of one’s political opinions and thoughts, what cannot be denied is that a 21st century world…a world with Presidents, and Prime Ministers, and democracies, and elected officials…fell to its knees in wonderment and awe during all of these royal displays. We can surmise that this was true for any number of reasons. Perhaps it was because people love a good spectacle and these events provided an unbeatable feast for the senses. Maybe it’s because we’re nostalgic for our childhood and these events remind us of the fairytales we once read and the magical worlds we once imagined. Or perhaps it is simply our fascination with history and the things that once were. All of these are surely possible explanations and even likely ones. But I’d like to propose, however, that it cuts deeper than this…that deep within our nature, fallen as it is, there is an existential longing for a king. This longing is manifest in the ancient civilizations…the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Emperors of China, the Kings of Babylon and Persia. It was even manifest among the Israelites when, through the Prophet Samuel, they cried out to God for a King. The modern world, driven by powerful political philosophers and the subsequent revolutions of the 18th century, has done a thorough job of training the modern mind to discard as silly or nonsensical any longings for a monarch or for royalty. But maybe we go “gaga” when a Queen opens parliament or when a Prince is married because, deep down, we were ourselves are a people who long for a king. Not a ruler of a particular nation or realm; not an administrator of goods; not an overlord or an oppressive tyrant, but a true king. Mighty and powerful, covered in glory and splendor…righteous, and just, and merciful. One who cares for the lowly and casts down the unvirtuous. An invincible leader who brings peace to His people, bread to His hungry, and hope to His despairing. The royal and dignified personification of beauty, the embodiment of truth, the very image of goodness itself. Maybe, just maybe, all along all we’ve ever truly wanted is God.

The Scripture and the perennial Tradition of Holy Church make it abundantly clear: God is not merely likened to a king…He is a King. Indeed, He is the Kings of kings and the Lord of lords. His right to rule over creation is not bestowed on Him, it is intrinsic to Him; He rules by virtue of His divine nature, not by the concession of His subjects. All that exists is subject to His governance; His realm is boundless and His power infinite. And His Kingdom cannot be conquered and it will have no end. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Son of God, Jesus Christ Himself, is the Eternal King of Glory. In becoming Man and in spilling His Blood, He set up His Kingdom, His Church, on earth, and promised to bring It to a glorious fulfillment at the end of time. And this is the three-fold Mystery of today’s great Feast: this mighty and powerful King truly reigns here and now; He will return in glory to bring His Kingdom into fulfillment; and at the end of time, all that exists will be completely and utterly consumed into Him.

As we consider this great Mystery today, and the rightful claim that Christ the King has on each of our hearts, I would like to propose that there are three characteristics and aspects of His Kingship and of His Kingdom that we must subject ourselves to and imitate. These are the standards against which we will be judged…whether or not we will be considered true subjects of His Kingdom and counted among the sheep rather than the goats.

The first characteristic is poverty. Typically when one thinks of a king, He thinks of vast riches…but Christ the King sets a different standard. By being born into poverty Himself, Christ shows us in the flesh that what is poor by earthly standards is of inestimable value in the eyes of God. The poor, the sick, the blind, the lame, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the diseased, and the sinful form the royal court of the Kingdom of God. They are His beloved…not because there is anything inherently good in their earthly poverty, but because it lends them more able to become poor in spirit. Earthly riches can distract us from God and can focus our attention on ourselves and our own satisfaction. Christ the King demands that the subjects of His kingdom have their focus on each other and on God…our gaze must always be outward and upward. The rich man is tempted to focus on himself, whereas the poor man, because he has nothing for himself, has nowhere else to look but out and up. On the Cross Christ drained Himself of everything, becoming the living embodiment of poverty. Those who inherit His Kingdom must themselves imitate this poverty of spirit.

The second characteristic is persecution. The palaces of kings have always been closely guarded and defended so that the king’s enemies might not breach the gates and threaten him…but Christ the King sets a different standard. By taking on flesh, He has made Himself vulnerable to the persecution of other men…subject to their threats, their insults, and their torments. He bids us in the Scripture to lay down our own defenses and to be willing to suffer whatever persecution comes our way. He commands us, His subjects, to turn the other cheek and to love our enemy. We are to told to cover our swords, as Peter himself was commanded, when facing our enemies…enduring what we must for the sake of the Kingdom. And He promises us that if we are sincere in our desire to follow Him, we will have enemies and we will be persecuted, just as He was. Those who inherit His Kingdom must themselves endure persecution for the sake of our King.

The third characteristic is humility. Earthly kings often evoke images of grandeur and splendor…but Christ the King sets a different standard. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul reminds us that Christ, though being in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, rather He humbled and emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave and subjecting Himself to death on a cross. Those who think much of themselves will necessarily think less of others…and less of God. Those who inherit the Kingdom of God must themselves become like little children, as Christ Himself became, and serve others with the heart of a slave.

The Kingship and Kingdom of Christ as manifested in the here and now is marked by the poverty, persecution, and humility lived out by Christ Himself. All His subjects, great and small, are called and commanded to imitate their King. In the fullness of time, He will return in glory, and judge us all by these standards. As we meditate on these Mysteries and as we revel in the majesty of the things of this earth, of the grandeur and splendor of earthly kings and princes, let us remember a phrase that, for centuries, was uttered thrice to the newly elected Pope: sic transit gloria mundi – thus passes the glory of the world. It is Christ alone Who is Victor. It is Christ alone Who is Ruler. It is Christ alone Who is Lord and King, now and forever.

 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Zeal for Your House Consumes Me: A Homily for the Dedication of St. John Lateran in Rome


The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou                                  Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

 

Homily
November 9, 2014

 I will never forget the first time I stepped foot into the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston. As a small child I was mesmerized by it…anytime we would drive by it I’d press my face up against the car window and just gaze up at its magnificence. If you’ve ever been to it or even just seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I remember being absolutely convinced that it was a medieval castle, filled with kings and knights and treasures. And even though we lived only a few miles away from it, it wasn’t until I was 9 years old that I finally went inside. 
The Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine
We were parishioners at Holy Family across town and there was just never an opportunity to go inside. But when my grandfather died in 1996, it was finally time to breach those grand doors. Clasping my grandmother’s hand, I entered into what would be a life-changing experience for me. The smell of incense and candles…the massive gothic arches…dozens of statues easily twice my size…beams of colored light flowing in through the intricate stained glass windows. I was stunned and completely awe-struck. This wasn’t a castle…it was heaven. It was that same day, completely overcome by the overwhelming sense of God’s abiding presence in that church and in my life, that I felt the call to the priesthood. And 18 years later I would lay on the floor of that very church, surrounded by the same arches, and windows, and statues, by the same brick and mortar, only to have the very same feeling of being overcome and awe-struck as God made me His priest. As I lay there, my face literally pressed into the floor of this beautiful church, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, which are actually a quote from Psalm 69, flooded into my mind and heart: zeal for your house consumes me.
 
Whether it’s a grand church like Sts. Peter and Paul, or a simple country church like the one we’re in now, we love our churches. These houses of God become homes for us…places where we encounter the beauty, and the truth, and the goodness of our God in ways almost inexpressible. The brick and the mortar, the stone and the wood, these things formed and fashioned by human hands become the locus for the great and daily encounter between God and man. Our ancestors in the faith poured their blood, sweat, and tears into these places in the hope that, for generations to come, God and His children would have a home to call their own…a refuge from the wiles of the world, a hospital for sinners to be made well again, a banquet hall for the hungry to feast. A place for the lonely to be welcomed, for the fearful to be given hope, for the poor to be made rich. It is here, within these walls and the walls of all the world’s churches, that God lifts us out of our everyday experiences and reminds us that He is with us…it is here that He gives us a foretaste of heaven and reminds us to live, not for this life in this world, but for the life in the world to come.
 
Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. At first glance it seems odd…why do we, in northern Maine, celebrate with such great festivity a church almost 4,000 miles away? My bet is that many of us here have never ever heard of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which can make this feast day all the more puzzling. So what exactly is going on today? Why are we here celebrating the dedication of a church we’ve probably never even been to or heard of?
 
Most people, when they think of churches in Rome, will automatically think of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s arguably one of the most, if not the most, famous churches in all Christendom.
The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran
But interestingly enough, St. Peter’s, while certainly being the biggest and the most recognizable church in the world, is actually not the most significant. That honor falls to the Papal Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, which we call St. John Lateran. It’s the most significant because it is this church that serves as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Rome, where the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, has his cathedra (his throne), from which he presides over all of Christendom as the Chief Shepherd of the Lord’s flock, as the Vicar of Christ on earth. This church is important, then, to all Christians because it is the great symbol of the Church’s unity as preserved and safeguarded by the Successor of St. Peter. On the 9th of November in the year 324, exactly 1,690 years ago today, this church was consecrated and has ever since served as the Mother and Head of all the Churches in the City of Rome and the World. 
His Holiness Pope Francis,
Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter,
at his cathedra in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
W
e turn our attention to and celebrate today that physical building…a conglomeration of wood and stone that has stood for centuries and centuries…of brick and mortar that has walled and covered the heads of 233 popes. We do this because this building means and signifies so much. It reminds us that, in Christ, we are all one…and this unity has enfleshed and evidenced itself in brick and stone just as the Son of God Himself took on flesh.
 
Here too, within these walls, we become a living instantiation and a visible sign of the unity of Christ’s Church. Joined as one with every Catholic Church in our diocese, in our country, in our world, and in a special way with St. John Lateran, our church here is a true Domus Dei, a house of God, where Christ Himself becomes present in our midst. We celebrate and acclaim that Christ, the Divine Son of God, is alive and present in His Church on earth. He works in and through the Pope, the Successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the Apostles. He works in and through the priests joined to them. He works in and through all of His holy people incorporated into His Body through Baptism and sustained by the Sacraments. And it is in this way that He continues His saving mission in the world.
 
Each time you come into this holy place, remember the mysteries contained herein. Remember what Christ has done, is doing, and will do for you and all His holy people in all of the churches throughout the world until the end of time. Remember that this is your home, not because of anything you have added or done for it, but because it is first God’s house…the place where He reveals to you His love and asks for your love in return. And remember that this piece of holy ground invites and calls you to live out the mysteries you encounter here wherever you go, so that with all your heart and soul you can cry out with the Psalmist, “Zeal for your house consumes me.
 
 
 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell: A Homily for All Souls' Day

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

Homily
November 2, 2014
All Souls’ Day 

The leaves have fallen and the trees are bare. The summer flowers have surrendered to the chill and have wilted away. The cold northern wind has already begun to blow. The days are getting shorter and it’s getting darker and darker. Nature is preparing itself to die the death of winter. This yearly occurrence, written into the very heartbeat of the earth by God the Father, is a reminder to us…a stark and poignant reminder that death is an unescapable reality. There is no one too good who may avoid it and no one too clever to evade it. Like winter, death hurls itself into our lives without consultation…it asks no permissions and seeks no forgiveness…and what’s worse is that it often comes without notice or forewarning. But every good Mainer, especially those nestled up in the north, knows that, with or without warning, winter will strike…and to survive it, it must be prepared for. Wood needs to be chopped and pellets purchased; food must be stored and winter tires must be installed; you all know the drill. And if these preparations are not made, devastation will ensue. The same is true for death. We cannot thwart it, but we can, in fact we must, prepare for it. And this doesn’t just mean pre-planning our funerals or buying life insurance. As human beings with immortal souls, death, as tragic as it is, is only a gateway…a gateway into eternal life or eternal damnation. We tend not to want to think about this…we have an amazing human ability to avoid thinking about anything that is unpleasant and certainly anything that is frightening. But in doing this, we’re not doing ourselves any favors. Just as the man who pretends that winter will never come, or who underestimates how severe it is, sets himself up devastation, so too does the person who spends no time thinking of his finality, or who simply takes for granted God’s gift of salvation.
 

Today, the Church places before us the Commemoration of all the faithful departed, more commonly called the All Souls’ Day. Yesterday we celebrated the great Feast of All Saints, wherein we rejoiced and gave thanks to God for all those faithful men and women who, without being officially declared Saints by the Church, have nonetheless attained the victory of Heaven. Today, however, is noticeably more somber. Today we face realities that are more unpleasant and less a cause for rejoicing and more a cause for reflection: the realities of death and judgment, of heaven and hell. These realities, commonly called in our Catholic tradition the “Four Last Things” provide us, in reflecting upon them, the impetus to prepare ourselves for what awaits us all. We will all die…we will all be judged by Christ Himself…and we will, each one of us, be admitted either to the glories of heaven or to the pains of hell. How these four “last things” go for us is dependent upon our cooperation with the gift of grace that Christ has given us. Salvation is indeed a gift, and as any other gift it must be received…it must be accepted and it must be wanted. We accept and evidence our want for this gift by how we live our lives – by how we believe, by how we hope, and by how we love. Christ makes this abundantly clear in the gospels – and He is constantly warning us that to reject His gift of salvation is to reject all that is beautiful, all that is good, and all that is true. When you strip life itself of God, all that can be left is hell. Heaven is a gift, and hell is a sentence…but each is also a choice. Today we face this stark reality head on and pray for the grace and strength to actually want, more than we want anything else, a life of love in God so that we can be with Him for all eternity.
 
The Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell
 
Humanity is so fickle though. Our legitimate wants and desires for what is good and holy can so often and easily be overcome by the power and lure of sin. On the one hand this is due to human weakness effected by original sin; but on the other hand, this is due to a battle that exists and is fought over every human soul. God, who made us in His image and likeness, fights for our love…He showers us with His mercy, He heals us with His Sacraments, He sustains us with His grace, He pours out His very blood for us and for our love. But the Devil, who is as real as you and me, fights for our hatred. He works tirelessly and cunningly to inspire within us a deep hatred for God and for each other…and he does this by stirring up within us a disordered love for ourselves. He tempts us with sin, and eases our consciences so that we’ll continue to sin, telling us that it’s okay and that we can live however we want. He tempts us with the lie that God and His Church really just want to make us miserable, to enforce all sorts of restricting rules and regulations to make life less enjoyable and more difficult. He tempts us with doubt…doubt about the Faith, doubt about God’s goodness, and doubt about God’s love for us. He tempts us with the bad things that happen in life, which sometimes occur by his own doing, in the hope that it will cause us to reject God and to trust only in ourselves. And once he’s succeeded, once he gets us to turn away from everything, he abandons us too…leaving us alone, with only ourselves, and the enduring hatred he has managed to convince us to have.
 

This life is indeed a battle. It has its ups and downs…its periods of joy and of fear…its periods of success and failure. But we are not in this alone. Remember and believe that you were made for God, that you are His, and that He will fight with and for you the entire time. When you fall, He will pick you up through the Sacrament of Penance. When you become weak and weary, He will heal you through the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. When you are hungry and need the strength to continue, He will feed you with His own Body and Blood. When you are lonely, He will comfort you as your friend and companion. When you are uninspired, He will open up the Scriptures to you. When you doubt, He will open your eyes to faith. But He can only do these things if you let Him into your battle and allow Him to be the Lord of your life. And you will, He promises, victorious.

But, like any battle that is won, there are still tears, and regrets, and wounds. Though we fight this battle well with Christ, and I trust that each of us is indeed trying to do so, most of us do not come out of this unscarred. Christ Himself still bears the wound marks of His crucifixion. These wounds of ours, caused by our fallings and our failures, need to be purified and transformed. This is why there is a Purgatory – where the fire of God’s intense love ignites us and purifies us like fire-tried gold. Today, and often, as we ponder and consider seriously these mysteries, we pray and offer our gift of love to the holy souls in Purgatory – to those who have been victorious in battle and who are now having their wounds cleaned and their tears wiped away so that they can meet their God face to face…without shame and without regret…only with a burning love.

I wish I could get up here and tell you that there is only springtime and that winter is just in our imagination…that sin is only a mirage and hell unreal. But if I did that, I would be a liar. I say what I say because this is what Christ has revealed to us to be true…and it is our duty to accept it and then to trust in Him to help us make our way through this valley of tears. But if we are faithful to Him, if we prepare well for the death of winter, then Christ will be faithful to us, and we will indeed live to see a springtime that is eternal. Today, let us pray for the strength to be faithful, as the holy souls who have gone before us have done. And in faith, in hope, and in love, we beg God to grant them eternal rest, to let perpetual shine upon them, and to grant them peace.

 

 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Homily: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou                                                                         Exaltation of the Holy Cross 

Homily
September 13-14, 2014
The Power of the Cross

“For you placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the Cross,
so that, where death arose, life might again spring forth
and the evil one, who conquered on a tree,
might likewise on a tree be conquered,
through Christ our Lord.”

These are the words from today’s Preface…words that we’ll hear sung in just a few moments. And they blow my mind. There’s not a screenwriter, or poet, or playwright that has ever existed or will ever exist that can top the brilliance of the story of Jesus Christ, the God-man. George Stevens capitalized on this in his 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told. A better name for it could not be found. It’s a story of unmatched action and drama…a story of deep mystery and intrigue…a story of unbridled passion and romance…it’s a story of complete tragedy and devastation, and it’s a story of unsurpassable glory and joy. It’s a story that climaxes upon two intersected wooden beams stuck into a hill outside of Jerusalem. Upon these beams hangs a man, but not just any man…the God-man. He hangs and He bleeds…He sweats, He gasps for air…and after hours of pure agony, He dies. Ecce homo…behold the Man…behold the God-man…raised up before our eyes not on a stunning throne of glory, but on a blood-stained tree of death. It wasn’t the Roman soldiers that kept Him there. It wasn’t the Jewish leaders that kept Him there. It was love that kept Him there. A love beyond words…a love that far surpasses anything we could ever dream of. He embraced the wood of the Cross because of His love for you. Behold the love of your God. Behold the price of your salvation. Behold the Cross.

Hail, O Cross, our only hope!
For the past 2,000 years, those who have professed faith in Christ have taken the Cross as the sign and symbol of their faith. The Cross is everywhere…in our churches, in our homes, even on our very selves. But step back for a moment and think about it…the absurdity of it all. Whether it’s gold or silver, wood or stone…whether it’s beautifully ornate or disturbingly grotesque…it’s two-intersected beams joined together for the purpose of execution. A wretched instrument of torture and death was hallowed and sanctified by God Himself Who hung upon it. His agony becomes our glory…His death becomes our life…His Cross becomes our salvation. We exalt the Cross and we bask in its glory because on it God reveals Who He is…the Eternal Lover…and who we are…His beloved. Greater love than this no one has. Behold how much you are loved. Behold the Cross.

In the Garden of Eden, the pure love between Creator and Creature was known and experienced intensely. The Scriptures tell us that God walked with Adam and Eve…and in the unimaginable love that He had for them, He provided them with paradise. Man and woman, created in the image and likeness of God Himself, were the crowns and pinnacles of all creation. Unable to accept that God would pour His love out on fleshly creatures formed from the dust of the earth, the Devil rebelled against God, rejected His love and His glory, and in His hatred and bitterness set out to destroy Adam and Eve. The cunning serpent, the evil one himself, tempted man and woman in disobedience to God. In the middle of their paradise garden, at the Tree of Life, the evil one conquered God’s beloved creation, robbing them of their splendor and glory, and created a chasm between God and man. Rejected and spurned by His own beloved, God could only seal His heavens from man and woman…for now bathed in sin they could not bathe in glory of God’s own life.

But this would not be the end…far from it. Unable and unwilling to let mankind rot away in sin, God promised to send a Savior…one Who would redeem His people and set them free from the chains of sin they fashioned for themselves. Little did they know that this Savior, Who would come in the fullness of time, would not simply be a great and blessed man…but would be God Himself. God would become Man. He would become a part of creation. He would have bones and a heartbeat, just like us. He would cry and shed tears, just like us. He would experience hunger, fatigue, and loneliness…He would be able to smile at us and touch us and eat with us. Before our very eyes, though we did not know it, God was again in our midst, walking with us as He did in the Garden of Eden, preparing to undo what had been done.

It had been the evil one who hung in the tree of life in the beautiful garden, waiting to tempt mankind. But in the forsaken garden of Calvary, on the Cross, the very tree of death, it was the God-man Who hung, waiting to save mankind. It had been the evil one who exalted himself as a master of wisdom, luring man and woman to him with his cunning words and persuasive ways. But it was God who humbled Himself as a slave and as a servant, drawing man and woman back to Him with His own self-sacrifice. It had been the evil one who, through disobedience, conquered life and brought death. But it was the God-man who, through complete obedience, conquered death and brought life. The saga of our salvation begins at a tree and it is brought to fulfillment at a tree. Behold the Cross.

And so, as we go about our days, weighed down by the burdens of life or even distracted by its pleasures, let us not forget the Cross. Everywhere we go, it follows us…serving as a reminder of God’s great love and of His great sacrifice for us. And it calls us to itself…it calls us, as the One Who hung upon it calls us, to take up our own crosses and to die for the sake of love. The Cross calls us out of complacency…it calls us out of selfishness…it calls us to death of self so that we might live. Let us then ever glory in the Cross of Christ and bask in its great mystery all the days of our life.