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.