Posts By: Fr. Alfonse
Gen 22:1-4 We’ve Read the Book
Thursday if the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
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God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering
on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey,
took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well,
and with the wood that he had cut for the burnt offering,
set out for the place of which God had told him.
As my dad and I talked about The State of The World about a month ago, I reflected on how much God tests us every day. God’s testing of us used to confuse me. Why would he test us and make this world harder than it actually is? He already knows what will happen, good or bad. But then I came to understand that God doesn’t test us so He can find out how we will respond; he already knows. He tests us so that we can find out how we respond, and in our growing self-knowledge, become better human beings.
And so we learn through adversity. Adversity, for me, is being in a group of friends and having a different opinion than the rest of them on any subject, be it something serious or not. It’s hard to be different. It’s hard to see posts on Facebook or Twitter that come from different viewpoints than yourself. It’s hard to listen to a group of adults talking who seem to be of the general opinion that the world couldn’t get much worse. But then my dad reminded me of something he had heard in college: “We’ve read the book, and we know how it ends.”
Yes, we’ve read the book. Yes, we know how it ends–God wins! Can you believe that? All this time you may have been thinking that the State of the World is unchangeable and will persist forever. But God DOES win.
So next time you’re sitting around at the dinner table at some friends’ house, don’t talk about how the world is getting worse. Nothing will be accomplished, and you may find yourself reflecting on that conversation later when you’re feeling discouraged. Instead, schedule a time to go pray at an abortion clinic. Or volunteer at White Rose Women’s Center. Or go to adoration. Talk about inspiring stories that you’ve heard or ways that someone has helped someone else in the past week. Talk about happiness and schedule chances to make change.
In Chicken Soup for the Soul, there is a poem that reads:
On the street I saw a small girl
cold and shivering in a thin dress,
with little hope of a decent meal.
I became angry and said to God,
“Why did you permit this?
Why don’t you do something about it?”
For awhile God said nothing.
That night he replied, quite suddenly,
“I certainly did something about it.
I made you.”
In each of us there is a light. The light enables us to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance in talking to people who share different beliefs than us about tough topics. Say a few Hail Mary’s then say “Come, Holy Spirit.” Jesus left us the Holy Spirit to set the earth on fire. Remember? “I have come to set the Earth on fire. And how I wish it were already blazing!”
We must believe that there is a life after death, and that we were created for a reason. For me, confirmation of this comes every time I learn more about the human body–the biochemistry of it, how the heart actually beats through electrical impulses, the wonders of how scientists can target specific cells to try to cure a patient. We must believe that in the end,we will win. We must believe that we are here not to be passive observers of a world that has so much wrong with it, but to be active changers (as Notre Dame phrased it in a college interview: ”change agents”)  and spread the true love of Catholicity a little at time. Have faith, just like Abraham, that everything will be perfect in the end. Have faith that the Catholic Church has endured for over two thousand years and no government, people, or war can destroy it. Have faith that you will set the Earth on fire. For no matter how dark the darkness is, it cannot quench the light.
Mt 16:13-19 Steadfast
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
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When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Today is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, two of the most important men in the early Church. Saint Peter, as this part of Matthew’s Gospel recounts, was the first Pope. Saint Paul wrote thirteen out of twenty books of the New Testament, known as the Pauline Epistles, or perhaps better known as all of those books named after cities that you can’t pronounce. In today’s Gospel, we read Peter’s profession of faith. When I read this beautiful profession of faith, I wish that I had faith like Peter.  But when I read in the first reading about Peter’s imprisonment and persecution… well… I’m not so sure that I want it anymore. You see, I want Peter’s cleverness but not his crucifixion. I want Paul’s eloquence but not his imprisonment. And as many people—perhaps even many of us Christians—want, I want Christ but not the cross.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is afraid of hardship. If something doesn’t feel right, or isn’t easy, we are told nine times out of ten that there is a way to remedy the situation, and that the situation should be remedied at all costs. Too many pregnant mothers have been told that they should simply “take care of the situation” by ending the life of the child—that way, they can go on without the burden of parenthood. Too many young people have been told that they should resort to drugs and alcohol to take care of deeper insecurities—that way, they don’t have to face their issues. Perhaps most egregiously, I once saw a façade for a business called “Soft Divorce.” Their slogan?“Because divorce doesn’t have to be hard.” More succinctly put, there is something about human nature that makes us terribly averse to all forms of hardship.

What must we do, then? As Christians, we must live in the example of Christ. We must not fear hardship, but instead take up our crosses and set an example of self-sacrifice in the pursuit of a greater good.

This is quite a simplistic example of trying to avoid a cross, but I think it serves its purpose. Not too long ago, all of my friends were struggling through finals week of junior year. This is more colloquially known as “Hell Week,” when every student is faced with the hardest tests of their life in conjunction with the pressure of knowing that said tests could tank their transcript—the only one that ever matters for college. Fortunately for me,after exemptions and such, my schedule worked out so that I only had two finals during Hell Week. As everyone sat worrying and compulsively checking the minimum GPAs for their dream schools, I slept in until afternoon exams. When I did have to go in to school, I sat in the library and watched Netflix on my laptop. It was basically like I was already on summer vacation. Then, on Friday, I watched the excitement of all of my friends who had just completed the biggest trial of the year. In contrast,I had nothing to be excited about. After all, I had barely been tested.

You see, as simple as my example may be, it proves a point—just sailing by in life with minimum effort is ultimately unsatisfying. Sometimes hardship is necessary to make us stronger. Hardship builds character. And after being tested, one can join in with St. Paul in saying: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Notice that St. Paul didn’t say, “I have competed to an extent; I have gotten by in the race; I have done an okay job at keeping the faith.” That’s not what we are made for.

That being said, even when we give our best effort to take up our crosses, we will still find our faith challenged. Most of these challenges will come from others around us who may not understand the Christian view of hardship. They may think that our choice to take up our cross is not worthwhile. They may mock our faith. Psalm 42:10, one of the Suffering Servant passages of the Old Testament, illustrates this well: “It shatters my bones, when my adversaries reproach me, when they say to me every day: ‘Where is your God?’… my tears have been my bread day and night, as they ask me every day, ‘Where is your God?’”  Some people just may never understand that sometimes it’s worthwhile to not take the easy way out, or the most “efficient” or “logical” route. We must still persevere in carrying our crosses, and we must never abandon our faith.  Look at St. John Paul II. As his mental soundness declined, so many people questioned why he was even persevering in his role as Pope. It wasn’t efficient for him to be suffering through his tasks. He could have retired quietly and had someone else take over. But he didn’t. And his example of suffering with dignity has inspired many.

In summation: we can’t have Christ without the cross. As the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul illustrate, for every triumph in our Christian lives, there will be a challenge. We must willingly take up these crosses, and never bow to the pressure to forsake our faith in times of hardship.
Acts 13: 22-26 Show Some Respect!
Solemnity of the nativity of St. John the Baptist
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By Benedict Augustine
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’’
In parishes all over the world, Catholics treat Jesus with appalling contempt—some with full knowledge but most through ignorance. The vast majority of them distribute the Eucharist, Jesus’ Own Body and Blood, as though it were a snack on an airplane. Very few even see the Mass as a solemn event. It is more an occasion for the priest to put on a show, privileged laymen to display their pious choreography, and musicians to rock and sway to Broadway tunes with religious lyrics. The congregation completes the scene by dressing in casual, sometimes scandalous, clothing. For the average Catholic, nothing about the Mass is all that serious.
Between Masses, the Host—again, this is the Body and Blood of Jesus—is usually stored in some oddly designed box (the tabernacle) placed to the side or in some unseen nook away from the center of the church. A few parishes will have adoration where people can sit quietly with Jesus during the week, but most parishes have dispensed with this practice. In these places, Jesus sits in His box while parishioners gossip and shoot the breeze a few steps away, oblivious to His Presence.
While all Catholics receiving Jesus in Holy Communion are supposed to receive Him with a clear conscience and without the stain of mortal sin, many hardly bother with this mandate. After all, this would require them to know that Holy Communion is a serious matter, and most churches have done away with such seriousness. Consequently, few parishioners even think of examining their conscience and attending Confession regularly. Although these same people will dress professionally and observe basic hygiene in order to have a pleasant appearance at their job or in public, they will blithely present a cluttered and dirty soul to God when they meet Him at the altar.
Outside the sacraments, which still remain under the purview of priests and deacons, committees of laypeople organize events and organizations to increase involvement in the parish. They discuss logistics, finances, schedules, and marketing; at the very bottom of the list is increasing actual holiness among the parish. Oftentimes, religion acts more like a decorative motif than a guiding principal for these well-intentioned endeavors. Rarely do they produce any conversions or increased fervor.
So many older Catholics express wonder at the drop in religious vocations and in the exodus of young people from the Church. Is it really a mystery in light of the way the church now operates in so many places? There is no reverence to be found anywhere. While John felt unworthy to tie Jesus’ sandals, many Catholics today feel comfortable wearing sandals and football jerseys to Mass. While John announced the coming of Jesus and gave the people a good cleaning, both physically and morally, before He arrived, most people handle Jesus carelessly with their grubby hands before consuming Him in the same way they consume a potato chip – and no, squirting disinfectant in one’s hands and smiling politely does not quite equal John’s baptism of repentance. People, both priests and laypeople, have made the Church silly, and it is truly a miracle that anyone feels drawn to serve Her anymore. I would say there is no better proof of the Holy Spirit than this.
In most cases, the only way to feel anything from this is to be part of the show. I know this from experience. I played music for the Mass, taught Catechism to kids receiving their sacraments, helped with RCIA, joined in different Scripture studies, and even blogged (for over a year now) about the faith. I did these things with the hope of feeling God’s presence, of becoming holy; but more often, I felt unchallenged and self-satisfied.
So, I left my parish to find a place that took the faith more seriously, that would help a person like myself. That led to me attending a Latin Mass Parish, the only one in the metroplex. Here, I discovered the beauty of the Mass, the joy of true repentance a regular confession, and the real challenge of living as a Christian. Not surprisingly, I also discovered young people, big families, and three—three!—priests who acted more like fathers than like managers. Apparently, many more such Latin Mass priests of the FSSP order are being trained at their seminaries, proving that the Latin Mass succeeds in producing vocations to the religious life.
Even though I was not the darling that I was in my last parish—being a relatively young guy involved in church activities, a rarity in parishes dominated by women and the elderly—I felt uplifted here. They took the Mass seriously! They took the sacraments seriously! They took prayer seriously!  Jesus was not my indifferent friend who overlooked my many faults, but my Lord and Master, the Man of whom John the Baptist, Isaiah, and Paul speak, Who wanted perfect obedience from me.  
I believed there is hope for restless Catholics and it lies in recovering this reverence for the Holy Trinity. All churches, not just traditional ones, can do this. Reverence should permeate our prayers, our actions, and most importantly our liturgy for the Mass. Only after this can we show reverence to the earth and the poor as Pope Francis enjoins the faithful to do, or show reverence to our families and communities. Sincere reverence will restore dignity to life, and instill a true humility and respect for God’s many blessings. St. John the Baptist repeated this lesson endlessly and modeled it in the wilderness. On this feast day, all members of the Church should listen to John once more and prepare their souls for Christ.

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