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.