Give Thanks in Everything

This homily was given at St. Joseph Parish, Roseburg, OR on the Thirty-fourth Friday in Ordinary Time, November 25, 2022. The audio is available here.


Yesterday, at the Mass for Thanksgiving Day, many of you shared things you were thankful for. 

Family, friends, kids, health, life, and pie were among the responses. 

Others identified spiritual goods: the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and in our hearts.  

But one response was so bold, so unexpected, it stood out among all the rest. 

”I thank God for my sickness.”

We can all understand setting aside a day to give thanks to God for the good things He gives us, above all for the gift of Himself, Jesus Christ, who gives Himself away to save us from slavery to sin and death and raise us up for eternal life.

We give thanks for that gift, not just once a year, but every time we come to Holy Mass, where His sacrifice is renewed!

But in light of that supreme gift, everything else takes on a different meaning. 

We see everything in life comes to us from the hand of our Father who loves us, who is saving us, who allows even the most difficult and painful circumstances of this life for the sake of our ultimate good: eternal life. 

Because Christ is with us, in us as “the hope of glory,” the seed of eternal life sown in our souls, we “give thanks in everything,” even in sickness, even in suffering, even in those terrible trials we cannot change—because the winters of this life, terrible as they are, are passing, and summer is near. 

Today, now, at this Holy Mass, “our redemption is at hand.”

As we prepare to receive Jesus once more, lift up our heads and our hearts to Him and say: “Thank you. For everything that has come to pass…”

And we shall rejoice with Jesus among the saints in glory in the Kingdom of Our Father, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

The Poorest King Who Ever Lived

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, November 20, 2022. The audio is available here.


In the Lord of the Rings, there is an ancient kingdom called Gondor.

For many generations, Gondor was ruled by a royal family of kings and queens.

But when the last king died and his heir disappeared, the king’s steward took charge of the kingdom.

And for almost a thousand years, the stewards, who had been the servants of the king, ruled Gondor as if they were kings themselves.

So when Boromir, the son of the steward, meets Aragorn, the last, secret descendant of the line of kings and the true heir to the throne, he says:

“Gondor has no king. Gondor needs no king.”

It’s not very appealing to have a king when you’re used to ruling yourself.

If there’s a king on a throne, then suddenly, my authority to make up my own rules, to determine my own destiny, is limited.

There’s another, higher authority that I must answer to. 

We think a king must be a tyrant.

We think someone ruling over us will only have his own interests in mind.

A king will use and abuse us, whereas if rule, then I can make sure that my needs are met, that I’m happy and safe and live a good life.

But Gondor, for all its pride, is on the verge of collapse.

The steward in charge has brought the kingdom to the point of ruin.

Gondor needs a king. Gondor needs a savior! … And so do we. 

I need a king, because if I look honestly at the kingdom of my own life, I have to admit that I am a useless steward—incapable of meeting my own needs, unable to engineer my own happiness, powerless to save myself from sickness, from loss, from grief, from despair, from death.

If that describes you, too, then this Sunday is very good news … because we have a king, and this king is no tyrant.

Ours is the poorest king who ever lived.

His throne is the cross.

No golden crown for him, but a circlet of thorns; not dressed in rich clothes, but stripped naked and exposed before the mockery of the crowds.

“Save yourself, you king; if you are the king, then get down off that cross and save yourself and us!”

Even in mocking him, they reveal the depths of their desperation for a savior, a true king with the power to deliver them from themselves, the terrible tyranny of self-rule, the desperate need to succeed on their own.

But our king, Jesus, does not get down from that cross.

He just … hangs there, between heaven and earth.

Jesus, who is God, created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, could have conquered the world without lifting a finger.

But he, the All-Powerful God, chose to make himself powerless.

He humbled himself as far as that, because He was after a greater prize than earthly kingdoms, greater by far than wealth and power and glory.

Jesus Christ came to win our hearts and souls back for God, His Father, and to win that kingdom, He had to show us what the Father is really like: 

Not a tyrant, not a bully, not an abuser in the sky, not a threat to our freedom, but a loving and kind and tender Father, a merciful Father, who gives everything He has away out of love for us.

Jesus Christ, the King on the cross, is the perfect image of the Father’s love.

And to all of us who admit that we need a king, Jesus gives us a simple invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-burdened; come into my kingdom, and I will give you rest. Come and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” 

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we receive Jesus Christ, the crucified King of the Universe, veiled here under the appearance of bread, we ask Jesus to rule over our own lives, in every detail.

And as we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we ask our most humble King to teach us how to live in His kingdom:

Jesus, teach us your way of humility instead of pride, meekness instead of insisting on our own way, powerlessness before God instead of grasping for control.

As we surrender our lives to the gentle rule of Jesus and learn the way of life of the kingdom of God, we begin to taste the peace, the happiness, the security, the freedom that we could not achieve on our own.

We will suffer, as our King suffered, but we will suffer like Jesus on the cross: in our suffering, we will be free, and no one will be able to take away our joy. 

And on the last day, when the veil is torn apart and the Heavenly King is revealed in all His glory, when every knee shall bend before the King of All, we shall cry out with all the angels and saints: “Blessed be the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.”

And we will hear him say: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Christ is Passing By

This homily was given at Byzantine Divine Liturgy at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, November 13, 2022. The audio is available here.


It didn’t have to happen this way.

God could have prevented this man from falling victim to the robbers.

He could have intervened!

He might have sent the good Samaritan down the road just a little sooner, with an escort of angels at his side, to drive the robbers away.

But instead, by the time the Samaritan reaches him, the robbers have done their work, and left him for dead by the side of the road.

St. Ambrose of Milan says this man is Adam, our forefather, and summed up in his miserable condition are all his sons and daughters.

Jericho is the city of sinful Man, the image of this fallen world, and Adam is going down from the city of God—from Paradise, the Jerusalem above—into this present darkness, into exile, by his own free choice.

Having turned from the law of the Lord to the sin of this world, it’s no wonder Adam falls victim to robbers, “the spirits of night and darkness,” who first steal the garments of grace we have received from God and then beat us up for good measure, leaving us wounded, humiliated…

But not alone.

Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan, is passing by, and He is not too late to save us.

Yes, He could have prevented us from falling victim to sin and death.

And by the gift of His prevenient grace, He does prevent us from falling victim to many, many sins which might otherwise have ensnared us.

The spiritual director of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus attested that she never committed a mortal sin. 

But Thérèse herself was certain that if it weren’t for God’s prevenient mercy, she would have been the worst sinner who ever walked the earth!

The sins we do commit fall within the realm of God’s permissive will.

To be sure, Adam would not have fallen among the robbers if he hadn’t first strayed from God’s commands and made himself vulnerable to them.

God is not the author of sin; we are. 

But God permits that we fall, just as He permitted Adam to fall.

He allows us to turn from Him, to listen to the Devil, to fall victim to the demons, to choose Jericho over Jerusalem, sin over grace, death over life.

As a holy Archbishop said to me, “God knows I have many faults, but I love Jesus Christ with all my heart … and if it weren’t for the sins that have humbled me, that have left me powerless and dependent on on his mercy, I would not love Jesus and trust Him as much as I do now.” 

St. Thérèse says much the same: “The memory of my faults humiliates me, it brings me to never lean on my own strength … but even more this memory speaks to me of mercy and love. When you throw your faults with total, filial trust in the burning all-consuming brazier of love, how would they not be consumed without coming back?”

God permits us at times to fall among the robbers so that even our faults, even our sins, may become fuel for the fire of love and trust in Jesus.

For love and trust is the fulfillment of the law and the way to eternal life.

Here, now, at this Divine Liturgy, Jesus Christ is passing by. 

Whatever sins, whatever wounds lie in our past, whatever we have done or failed to do, we lay bare before the gaze of His saving mercy … and forgetting what lies behind us, placing all our trust in Jesus, we get up and set out for what still lies ahead.

There, in the new Jerusalem, we shall rejoice with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and our joy shall be full, for we shall know Him as we are known and loved, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

The Great Ones

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 6, 2022. The audio is available here.


In the seminary, we often sing a hymn to the martyrs which goes like this: 

“These were thy great ones: we, thy least,
One in desire and faith with them,
Called by the Lord to keep one feast,
Journey to one Jerusalem.”

The seven brothers in today’s first reading were truly great ones.

“Even the king and his attendants marveled at their courage, because those young men regarded their sufferings as nothing.”

Nothing!

They were “ready to die rather than transgress the laws of their ancestors.”

For these holy brothers, the issue was not just about forbidden food; it was about who was king in Israel: God, or their pagan overlords, who wanted to humiliate them and destroy their faith by forcing them to eat pork. 

In the history of the Church, many martyrs have died for less.

Thousands upon thousands of Christians died in the Roman Empire because they refused to burn a pinch of incense before a statue of the Emperor.

The issue was the same: who was King, Christ or Caesar?

For the Christians, it was idolatry, blasphemy, to offer a sacrifice of worship to a man, when all glory, honor, and worship belong to Jesus Christ alone.

They were ready to die rather than deny Christ the King.

Most of us have grown up and lived all our lives in places where being a Christian was no great risk.

The United States, the Philippines, Mexico: these were Christian countries, and even as the faith is fading, we have not had much to fear.

When I became Catholic in high school, I got teased and lost some friends—I didn’t face torture and death. 

But make no mistake: we are living in a new apostolic age.

As we believe and follow Jesus, we can expect to suffer some consequences.

The teacher who bravely stands up for the truth that “God created them male and female…” 

The nurse who refuses to assist with abortions or euthanasia…

Or the pharmacist who refuses to dispense contraception…

Even the ordinary Catholic who dares to go out in public wearing a cross around her neck or praying the rosary, or says God bless you at Safeway!

The world sees our faith in Jesus and His Gospel as a threat to its own power, just like our forefathers who refused to burn a pinch of incense to the Emperor, or the Maccabees who refused to take a bite of pork.

Our reputations, our jobs, our livelihood may all be on the line before long.

It’s natural for us to be afraid, to count the cost … even to be tempted to burn the pinches of incense our new pagan overlords demand.

But like the martyrs, “one in desire and faith with them,” there comes a time for all of us that we must choose on whose side we stand: God or the world, Jesus Christ or the princes and powers of this age. 

Jesus Christ is the true King of the world.

And Jesus is not afraid.

All authority and dominion has been given to Him by His Father.

Jesus holds all the princes and powers of this age in the palm of his hand.

He knows it, and the Devil knows it: “he knows his time is short,” his power is temporary; his defeat is already accomplished; God’s victory is secure.

Following King Jesus, like the great martyrs in former days, we hold on to the faith of our fathers steadfastly, courageously, through times of trial.

We stand strong, like lights in the darkness, to give hope and a good example to those who might falter and fall.

Whatever we may risk, whatever we may lose, we know “it was from Heaven that we received them, and from Jesus we hope to receive them again.”

For Jesus is “faithful; he will strengthen us and guard us from the evil one,” the Devil, whom He conquered once and for all on the Cross.

And even though we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, following our King, we know that on the last day He, the King of Life, will “raise us up to live again forever.”

Today, at this Holy Mass, ask Jesus to encourage and strengthen us with faith in His kingdom and good hope through His grace.

Ask Him to be with us and support us when trials come.

As we receive Jesus today in the Holy Eucharist and choose to follow Him unreservedly, we are united in the Body of Christ with all the saints and martyrs.

We share in their strength, their courage, the full inheritance of the saints.

And when the final trumpet sounds, when the dead are raised and the Lord appears in glory, our joy will be full, and we will be welcomed into their company to share in the victory that lasts forever.

“To Contemplate the Beauty of the Face of Christ”: The Rosary and the Jesus Prayer as Complementary Devotions

Introduction

St. John of the Cross, acclaimed by the Western Church as a true “master in the faith”[i] and “guide of those within the holy Church who seek greater intimacy with God,”[ii] teaches that all Christian prayer must undergo a process of maturation. In the early stages of the spiritual life, prayer tends to be primarily discursive, reliant on words and images, whereas more mature prayer tends to be characterized by wordless, loving attentiveness to the presence of God.[iii] The decisive transition is described by St. John as an interior movement from “meditation to contemplation,”[iv] that is, from prayer which is more active to prayer which is more passive and still. In one memorable passage, the Mystical Doctor compares this transition to God “weaning [the soul] from the delicate and sweet food of infants and making it eat bread with crust … the food of the strong.”[v] St. Teresa of Jesus, for her part, describes the same transition as the change from laboriously drawing water from a well to receiving “heavenly water that in its abundance soaks and saturates”[vi] the soul. In either analogy, it is clear that this maturation in prayer comes in God’s time and as a result of his initiative, not as something achieved by the one praying as a result of willpower or technique. 

The individual has an indispensable part to play, however, in disposing themselves to receive the gift of contemplation. St. Teresa notes that “in the beginning it almost always occurs after a long period of mental prayer.”[vii]The practice of mental prayer is thus recommended by the masters of the spiritual life in order to dispose the soul to receive the gift of contemplation and advance to the more mature degrees of Christian prayer. The Carmelite doctors are careful to distinguish, however, that this mental prayer does not require one to abandon vocal prayer and seek some purely apophatic state of consciousness. “The nature of mental prayer isn’t determined by whether or not the mouth is closed,” St. Teresa of Jesus wryly observes: “If while speaking I thoroughly understand and know that I am speaking with God and I have greater awareness of this than I do of the words I’m saying, mental and vocal prayer are joined.”[viii] Father Wilfrid Stinissen, a spiritual son of Saints Teresa and John, distinguishes

three degrees in the development of prayer. In the beginning, it is often a prayer with the lips. While the tongue repeats the words, the thoughts continue to swarm around. When you succeed in reaching the content of the words, you have reached the second degree—the prayer of understanding … As you rise up to this meaning with your whole essence and not only with your understanding … the prayer sinks down into the heart. This is the third degree. … To a certain degree, the entire spiritual development, especially for us Westerners, deals with this transfer from the head to the heart.[ix]

When vocal prayer is prayed with understanding, and preeminently when it is prayed with the engagement of the heart, which is “the place of this quest and encounter”[x] with God, “this vocal prayer is now in fact mental prayer.”[xi]Progress in prayer, then, consists most essentially not in the renunciation of words and images, but rather in engaging the heart in what is said with the lips and meditated upon with the intellect: “to stand before God with the mind in the heart,”[xii] as the Eastern spiritual master Theophan the Recluse has it. The one who begins to pray “whole-heartedly” in this way opens himself up in time to the possibility of a purgative interior transformation, effected by God, who leads the soul into new, supernatural degrees of prayer. 

In the Churches of the East and West, two highly distinctive traditions of prayer have arisen, reflective of deep and irreducible differences in their theological and devotional “styles.” Arguably the most characteristic devotion of the Western Church is the Holy Rosary, in which it meditates, with the words of Scripture, on the central events of the life of Christ. The Rosary is “a form of Christocentric contemplation,”[xiii] according to the phrase of St. John Paul II; it is a meditative gaze fixed on Christ, seen through the eyes of his Mother. In the Christian East, the tradition of the Jesus Prayer likewise aims to maintain a simple, insistent focus on Christ the Redeemer by the repetition of His divine name, a repetition which “simplifies and unifies” the soul and “gathers everything into itself,”[xiv] integrating body, mind, and heart in the loving contemplation of the LordThese two forms of vocal prayer, with due respect to their irreducible distinctness in style, nonetheless have the same end, which is to integrate the whole person in prayer and so dispose the soul to receive the gift of contemplation. Furthermore, far from being mere culturally conditioned (and therefore interchangeable) expressions of a basic impulse of Christian prayer towards integration, contemplation, and union, the Holy Rosary and the Jesus Prayer are mutually enriching approaches in disposing the soul to receive those gifts. While it is no doubt true that “the best prayer is for everybody the prayer to which he or she is moved by the Holy Spirit,”[xv] all Christians, whether in the East or in the West, ought to consider making use of these two priceless treasures of devotion, which so complement each other in the integration and maturation of the soul towards perfect prayer and union with God.

The Holy Rosary

The Holy Rosary is first and foremost a Marian prayer, yet it “belongs to the kind of veneration of the Mother of God described by the [Second Vatican] Council: a devotion directed to the Christological centre of the Christian faith.”[xvi] In each decade of the Rosary, the faithful meditate upon one of the central mysteries of the life of Christ; each decade, in fact, is a “‘meditation’ with Mary on Christ.”[xvii] This insight is the key to praying the Rosary with understanding. The style of the Holy Rosary is entirely Marian, inasmuch as it is prayed with Mary and in “the school of Mary,”[xviii] but the content of the Rosary is entirely Christological.[xix] The Rosary presents the mysteries of Christ to us precisely as seen “through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord.”[xx] Like the Mother of God herself, who at the Wedding of Cana pointed the servants toward her Son and instructed them, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5), the course of Hail Mary’s repeated in each decade of the Holy Rosary bring the soul into “the constant contemplation – in Mary’s company – of the face of Christ.”[xxi]

It is not accidental, then, that “the center of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the name of Jesus.[xxii] Indeed, “when we repeat the name of Jesus – the only name given to us by which we may hope for salvation (cf. Acts 4:12) – in close association with the name of his Blessed Mother, almost as if it were done at her suggestion, we set out on a path of assimilation meant to help us enter more deeply into the life of Christ.”[xxiii] This path is the way of deepening faith and maturation in prayer which Mary herself walked in the course of her earthly life, from the Annunciation (the first of the Joyful Mysteries) to the Crucifixion (last of the Sorrowful Mysteries), and which she completed in glory with her Assumption and Coronation in Heaven. Since Mary has gone before us all on this path, she who is now “more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,”[xxiv] opens up “the possibility of us too becoming assenters”[xxv] to the will of God for us. From Mary and with Mary, we learn to offer our own ‘fiat voluntas tua to the Lord, imitating her posture of confident faith, of “silent waiting, humble serving, ready praise.”[xxvi] In the delightful phrase of St. John Paul II, “the Rosary mystically transports us to Mary’s side as she is busy watching over the human growth of Christ in the home of Nazareth. This enables her to train us and to mold us with the same care, until Christ is ‘fully formed’ in us (cf. Gal 4:19).”[xxvii]

Indeed, it is only with Mary—not just by her example, nor even by her intercession, but by joining ourselves withher on this path of faith—that we can attain to the fullness of maturity in Christ.  “If it was only through prayer that Mary trained to utter her own word of assent,” Hans Urs von Balthasar observes, “then we are truly unable to accomplish our assent by our own power: we must remain in an attitude of grateful attention looking to her who has truly been able to assent.”[xxviii] As we attend to Mary, contemplating Christ with her and through her eyes, we find that we are conformedto Christ with her; Mary, who formed the humanity of Christ in her virginal womb, forms Christ anew in us.[xxix]

The Jesus Prayer 

At the outset of his classic work On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, Lev Gillet, a monk of the Eastern Church, notes that “the invocation of the Name of Jesus can be put into many frames … but, whatever formula may be used, the heart and center of the invocation must be the Holy Name itself, the word Jesus. There resides the whole strength of the invocation.”[xxx] As St. John Paul II observed, the center of each Hail Mary and so the heart of the Rosary as a whole is the repetition of the name of Jesus. Thus, without in any way diminishing its unique and irreducible value in itself, one might call the Rosary an elaborate Marian “frame” surrounding the Name of Jesus, a characteristically Western “formula” of the Jesus Prayer; indeed, “it is, as Frithjof Schuon has stated, ‘the Jesus Prayer of the Western Church.’”[xxxi]

Nonetheless, the Jesus Prayer as it is prayed in the Eastern Church has its own distinctive value, part of which “lies precisely in the fact that, because of its radical simplicity, it can be prayed in conditions of distraction when more complex forms of prayer are impossible.”[xxxii] The spiritual masters of the East recommend that “we daily assign a certain time to the invocation of the Name (besides the ‘free’ invocation which should be as frequent as possible),”[xxxiii]with the result that “in time … the Name of Jesus will spontaneously come to your lips and almost continuously be present to your mind.”[xxxiv] This “one-word prayer”[xxxv] is a concrete and eminently practical means of fulfilling the Lord’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16), of keeping, as Bishop Theophan the Recluse recommends, “the hands at work, the mind and heart with God.”[xxxvi] It is not always possible to meditate; it is always possible to pronounce the name of Jesus, whether with the lips or in one’s mind alone.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer differs most sharply from the Holy Rosary in that it is not meditation, but invocation. The late Bishop Kallistos Ware clarifies this distinction:

According to the teaching of Eastern Christianity, the faculty of the imagination by means of which we form more or less living images according to our aptitude, has only a very limited place in the work of prayer … ‘He who sees nothing in prayer, sees God.’ Our minds, habitually dispersed in a great diversity of thoughts and ideas, should be unified, brought back from multiplicity to simplicity and emptiness; from diversity to sobriety. It [sic] should be purified of all mental images and all intellectual concepts until it is no longer conscious of anything other than the presence of God, invisible and incomprehensible.[xxxvii]

In the evocative phrase of St. John Climacus, “it is necessary to imprison the intellect in words.”[xxxviii] Rather than meditating upon the individual mysteries of the life of Christ, then, the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer binds his mind in a resolute attentiveness to “the Mystery that surpasses all understanding (cf. Eph 3:19): the Mystery of the Word made flesh.”[xxxix] Thus, Gillet’s classic introduction to the Jesus Prayer advises beginners, “Begin to pronounce [the Name] with adoration and love. Cling to it. Repeat it. Do not think that you are invoking the Name; think only of Jesus himself.”[xl] The goal of the practice is for the words of the prayer, even the Name itself, to become imperceptible to the one praying, transparent to the presence of the One who is named. In effect, what is described by the eastern masters is the transition from vocal prayer to mental prayer and on to the prayer of the heart. One recognizes the same integration of the whole person, described by St. John Paul II as the goal of prayer in the school of Mary, in this description of the fruits of the Jesus Prayer: “The participation of the mind becomes more intense and spontaneous, while the sounds uttered by the tongue become less important … Like a drop of ink that falls on blotting paper, the act of prayer should spread steadily outwards from the conscious and reasoning center of the brain, until it embraces every part of ourselves.”[xli]

To be sure, the indispensable Marian dispositions described in the previous section, particularly her posture “of faith, of silence, of attentive listening,”[xlii] are not absent from the Jesus Prayer. Anyone who would be attentive to the presence of Jesus must do so, consciously or not, in the posture and attitude of Mary. Bishop Ware even indicates in passing that Mary is present implicitly every time “He is invoked by the human name, ‘Jesus,’ which His Mother Mary gave to Him after His birth in Bethlehem.”[xliii] The distinguishing characteristic of the Jesus Prayer, however, is its unrelenting simplicity of focus on Jesus, leading to a state of “pure prayer”[xliv] and union with God. This purity of focus can be a helpful complement and corrective to our more discursive forms of Western devotion. 

Conclusion

The most characteristic devotions of the Christian East and West, namely, the Jesus Prayer and the Holy Rosary, are irreducibly different yet deeply complementary forms of prayer. On the one hand, the “Marian posture” inculcated by the prayer of the Holy Rosary is a necessary disposition to receive the gift of contemplation. It is “a constitutive condition for the way which is Christ.”[xlv] Thus the Rosary can enrich our practice of the Jesus Prayer, and indeed of all vocal prayer, by habituating us to the Marian dispositions so essential for progress in prayer and Christian maturity. On the other hand, the insistent focus on Christ alone instilled by the Jesus Prayer forms in the soul a habit of seeking Jesus, which can only lead to more fruitful meditation on His mysteries and encountering Him through the memories of Mary as we pray the Holy Rosary. May the Church strive with ever greater zeal to “breathe with her two lungs,”[xlvi] and may Christians everywhere who desire a deeper life of intimacy with Christ make use of the treasures of her tradition, East and West, to attain to the fullness of life in God.


[i] John Paul II, “Master in the Faith” [Apostolic Letter on the 4th Centenary of the Death of St. John of the Cross] (December 14, 1990), §1, at http://www.ewtn.com.

[ii] John Paul II, “Master in the Faith,” §17.

[iii] See John Paul II, “Master in the Faith,” §13.

[iv] John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991), I, 10, 1.

[v] John of the Cross, Dark Night, I, 12, 1.

[vi] Teresa of Jesus, The Book of Her Life, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1976), 18, 9.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Teresa of Jesus, The Way of Perfection, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1980), 22, 1.

[ix] Wilfrid Stinissen, Praying the Name of Jesus: The Ancient Wisdom of the Jesus Prayer, trans. Joseph B. Board (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1999), 92-93.

[x] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2710.

[xi] Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 24, 6.

[xii] Theophan the Recluse, quoted in Igumen Chariton of Valamo, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E. M. Palmer (London: Faber & Faber, 1966), 63.

[xiii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ [On the Most Holy Rosary] (October 16, 2002), §12.

[xiv] Lev Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus (Oxford: Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, 1949), 19.

[xv] Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 18.

[xvi] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §4.

[xvii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §13. Emphasis added.

[xviii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §1.

[xix] This language, however, leaves much to be desired, as the Marian style is itself Christological and the Christological content is itself Marian. “By divine choice,” writes Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis in his preface to von Balthasar’s Threefold Garland, the mysteries of Christ and Mary are “utterly inseparable from one another” (10). 

[xx] Paul VI, Marialis Cultus [For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary] (February 2, 1974), §156.

[xxi] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §15.

[xxii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §33.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] “Hymn to the Theotokos,” Orthodox Church in America, accessed November 4, 2022, https://www.oca.org/orthodoxy/prayers/hymn-to-the-theotokos.

[xxv] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Threefold Garland (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982), 20.

[xxvi] Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, “Preface,” in Balthasar, Threefold Garland, 14.

[xxvii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §15.

[xxviii] Balthasar, Threefold Garland, 23.

[xxix] See John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §15 ff.

[xxx] Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 1.

[xxxi] Jean Hani, “The Rosary as Spiritual Way,” in Ye Shall Know the Truth: Christianity and the Perennial Philosophy, edited by Mateus Soares de Azevedo (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2005), 101.

[xxxii] Kallistos Ware, “The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality,” in Ye Shall Know the Truth, 79-80.

[xxxiii] Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 7.

[xxxiv] Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 12.

[xxxv] Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 19.

[xxxvi] Theophan the Recluse, in The Art of Prayer, 92.

[xxxvii] Kallistos Ware, qtd. in Rama Coomaraswamy, The Invocation of the Name of Jesus as Practiced in the Western Church (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999), 245-246.

[xxxviii] John Climacus, qtd. in Coomaraswamy, The Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 235.

[xxxix] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §24.

[xl] Gillet, On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 9.

[xli] Ware, “The Power of the Name,” 88-89.

[xlii] John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, §24.

[xliii] Ware, “The Power of the Name,” 82.

[xliv] Coomaraswamy, The Invocation of the Name of Jesus, 246.

[xlv] Balthasar, Threefold Garland, 23.

[xlvi] John Paul II, Ut unum sint [On Commitment to Ecumenism] (May 25, 1995), §54.

A Different Standard

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 23, 2022. The audio is available here.


You’ve probably seen the meme on Facebook or Instagram.

Under an image of a good-looking guy with big muscles, it says: “Dear men, what is preventing you from looking like this?”

We live under the tyranny of perfection, surrounded by glossy images of people with perfect bodies, perfect résumés, and perfect lifestyles. 

And nowhere more so than on social media.

We all kind of know what we see on Facebook or Instagram isn’t real, but that doesn’t mean we don’t judge ourselves against it.

And so we strive to achieve in ourselves the kind of perfection we see portrayed so convincingly in the movies and on our cell phone screens.

Our culture may have perfected this art, but striving after a false standard is nothing new.

Consider the Pharisees.

The Gospel writers portray them as a group obsessed with perfection.

In their case, much more admirably than our culture’s present obsession with superficial, passing things like beauty, money, success, the Pharisees were preoccupied with the Torah, the law of God.

They were so concerned with keeping the law perfectly that they set up what they called a “fence” around the law, a lot of little laws, so as to avoid not just breaking the commandments, but even coming close to breaking one. 

The problem is that in doing so, they invented a false standard of perfection.

The Pharisee Jesus describes in today’s parable is the epitome of striving after this false standard, and he’s doing pretty well in getting there. 

The Torah prescribed one day of fasting per year on Yom Kippur; this Pharisee fasts twice every week.

The Torah calls for Jews to tithe ten percent of their income to the temple; this Pharisee announces he gives ten percent off everything he has.

And while it’s never wise to make sweeping generalizations, as if all the Pharisees were like this, the deeper problem the Gospel writers point out with this Pharisee is that all his striving has given birth to pride.

Pride is sinful self-preoccupation, becoming fixated on ourselves, what we do, rather than looking outward at each other and upward to God.

This Pharisee was not really talking to God at all; he “spoke this prayer to himself: ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!’”

As long as he succeeded at keeping the law, and all the little laws they had built up around it, he could feel smug, superior, self-satisfied.

That’s one possible outcome when we live according to a false standard.

But because the standard is utterly wrong, made-up, and nearly impossible to achieve, most of us find our efforts to reach it are in vain.

The more we strive after a false standard of perfection, the more we get burned out, exhausted, and convinced of our own inadequacy.

Yet behind all our striving is the same sinful self-regard: looking at ourselves with sadness and contempt, rather than preening satisfaction, but still looking at ourselves just as much as the Pharisee.

Jesus proposes a different standard … the true standard of perfection.

By his very life, simply being who He Is, and by His words: 

“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now, He’s God and we’re not; He’s omnipotent—we’re not.

But “God is love,” and we are made in his image, the image and likeness of divine love, and we can strive, by the grace of God, to love as He loves: to love as Jesus loves.

This is the first and the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

In order to love as Jesus loves, we first have to humble ourselves.

Humility, the opposite of pride, means, not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.

Humility means accepting the truth that we are sinners, we are deeply broken and flawed, with imperfect bodies and messy lives, failing more than we succeed, and yet … we are made for love.

We don’t need to earn it by striving after some false standard of perfection, as if we’ll finally be loved when we succeed.

Instead, like the publican, we come before God in the truth of who we are and let ourselves be loved … and strive to love God and one another as Jesus loves us.

Today, at this Holy Mass, raise your eyes, lift your gaze, and look at Him in the Holy Eucharist … and let Him look at you with His gaze of love.

As we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and grant that I may strive to love you with every breath, with every beat of my heart, and love my neighbor as you love me.” 

As we strive for the perfection of love, forgetting ourselves and our false standards, we find an unexpected peace, joy, and confidence filling our hearts. 

And we who humble ourselves for the sake of love will be exalted, not on Instagram, but in the Kingdom of Heaven, with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

Never Lift Alone

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 16, 2022. The audio is available here.


Two seminarians were working out in the gym, when one of them noticed his brother was struggling to lift some particularly heavy weights.

He rushed over to help him.

As they finally racked the weights, he laughed and teased him, “Bro, do you even lift?”

His friend fired back, “Bro, I lift my mind and my heart to the living God!”

That’s not a bad definition of prayer: we lift our mind and our heart to God.

We lift up our mind to God as we think about Him in prayer, read His Word in the Scriptures, meditate on His life in the Holy Rosary…

And we lift up our hearts to God as we talk to Him, pour out our feelings to Him in prayer, expose our memories, our fears, our desires to Him … and listen for His response. 

But like the seminarian in the gym, to lift anything up, we need a certain amount of strength.

And we know from experience that our strength is not consistent.

The more we lift, yeah, the stronger we get, but we also get tired.

Even Moses’ hands grew tired!

And so it seems that the Lord asks something virtually impossible of his disciples.

“Pray always without becoming weary” sounds a lot like “lift always, hold your hands up always, without taking a break.”

“Really?”

If we’re thinking of prayer this way, we run the risk of falling into despair, as we try again and again to live up to this impossible demand and continually fail to hit the mark.

But Jesus does not ask the impossible.

When it seems like He does, we need to check our assumptions. 

One mistaken assumption we might have is that prayer is a solo activity.

Like the seminarians in the gym, we never lift alone.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, his friends Aaron and Hur were there with him, at his right and his left, to support him and hold them up.

Likewise, our prayer is never just “me and Jesus.” 

Even when we’re praying in the privacy of our own rooms or somewhere else completely secluded, we are praying in community.

We are praying with friends.

This community of friends is called the Church, which includes all of us here on earth who are disciples of Jesus, all the saints in heaven who were disciples before us, and even those souls in purgatory who have died and are being purified before their final entrance into heaven.

And it’s not just us human beings, either.

The Church also includes the angels: our guardian angels, who are always present with us, watching over us and defending us, and all the choirs of angels in Heaven, continually praising, adoring, and glorifying God.

Therefore, when Jesus says, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also in the midst of them…”

He means whenever we go to pray, there we are, right in the middle of this invisible communion of the Holy Catholic Church, and there He is, the King enthroned in the midst of His court.

Friends, there will be times when we get tired of prayer.

When I was ordained a deacon, I promised to pray 5 times a day, every day.

There are days I don’t want to, days when I’m tired, when my strength is weak, when my mind and heart feel really heavy and hard to lift.

And that’s not only natural—it’s good, because it’s a reminder that none of us is self-sufficient.

We need each other, we need the Church, to live the Christian life, to make it to heaven.

Holy Spirit, I ask you to bring to the mind of each one of us here one friend, one person we can rely on to hold our hands up when they get tired, to support us in prayer when we really need the help … a friend on earth, maybe a saint in heaven.

If nobody comes to mind, ask Jesus to introduce you to one of His friends.

As we receive Holy Communion today, offer your communion for that one friend, giving thanks to God for them, praying for their intentions.

And this week, invite that friend to make a commitment with you to pray for each other … and to reach out to each other when you need the help.

This can be especially hard for us men, but trust me, brothers, we need it, just as much as you need a spotter in the gym.

Your commitment could be as simple as offering a weekly rosary for each other’s intentions, getting together once a week at a coffee shop to read Scripture and pray, or even remembering them, like today, at Holy Mass when you receive Jesus in the Eucharist.

If you want to have good friends, be a good friend.

Pray for your friends when they’re on the Cross, when their arms are aching, and allow their prayer to support you when you are tired and weak.

And Christ, our true friend, who is in our midst, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, will hear and answer our prayers, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Christian Marriage and the Call to Perfect Love

The goal of every Christian life, however different they may be in concrete particulars, can be summed up in one phrase: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).[1] This command, the crowning precept of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, is further specified by his teaching on the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:36-39). As St. John Paul II affirmed in the first encyclical of his pontificate, Redemptor hominis, this “vocation to perfect love is not restricted to a small group of individuals,” as if Christ had proposed perfection to the Twelve Apostles alone as a kind of supererogatory goal; on the contrary, it is “meant for everyone.”[2] Every genuine form of Christian life which has developed in the Church’s history, from the ascetics of the Egyptian desert to the Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Calcutta, from the ordinary parish priest to the families who fill the pews of his church, constitutes an attempt to live out this “vocation to perfect love” which is most essential to Christian discipleship.

It is from these fundamental teachings of her Lord that the Church derives the doctrine of the universal call to holiness, reaffirmed most recently by the Magisterium at the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.[3] This doctrine, however, stands in a certain tension with another teaching. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is approached by a rich young man, asking what he must do “to have eternal life” (Mt 19:16). The Lord seems to give a two-fold response. “If you would enter life, keep the commandments,” he says, but when the young man answers that he has kept them from his youth and inquires what he still lacks, the Lord further adds: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess … and come, follow me” (vv. 17, 21). Gradually, there developed from this Scriptural encounter the doctrine of “two ways” of Christian life, one suitable for the masses, the other intended only for a spiritual élite. The former way, which demanded only the keeping of the commandments, was the minimum requirement for salvation; the latter, distinguished by the supererogatory self-offering of evangelical poverty, chastity, and obedience, was the “path of perfection”[4] leading to greater glory in the life to come. 

As early as the third century, the Alexandrian school cane to associate this “ordinary way” of Christian life with marriage and the way of the perfect with consecrated virginity. Thus Origen, the master of this school, teaches that “the benevolent God, who desires our salvation, has ordained two states of life for man: marriage and virginity, in such a way that he who is not able to rise up to the challenges of virginity, takes a wife.”[5] By the fourth century, the Origenist bishop Eusebius of Caesarea taught an identical doctrine: 

Two ways of life were thus given by the law of Christ to His Church. The one is above nature … it admits not marriage, child-bearing, property nor the possession of wealth, but wholly and permanently separate from the common customary life of mankind, it devotes itself to the service of God alone … Such then is the perfect form of the Christian life. And the other more humble, more human, permits men to join in pure nuptials and to produce children.[6]

Since marriage came to be considered the “common” or default Christian state of life, requiring only obedience to the precepts of the Decalogue, as opposed to the more perfect form of life lived by consecrated virgins, marriage naturally came to be regarded as lesser in dignity and sanctity than virginity. St. Thomas Aquinas, summing up the status quo ante of the tradition in the thirteenth century, identifies the “state of perfection” with the religious life, since the one who professes religious vows “bind[s] himself in perpetuity and with a certain solemnity to those things that pertain to perfection,”[7] namely, the practice of evangelical poverty, chastity, and obedience. By “state of perfection,” St. Thomas thus refers to a stable form of life, freely chosen, by which individual members of the Christian faithful set out to grow towards perfect charity, having professed public and perpetual vows to make use of the means of perfection—the evangelical counsels—recommended by the Lord. Characteristically, St. Thomas is quick to distinguish that “some persons bind themselves to that which they do not keep, and some fulfill that to which they have not bound themselves … Wherefore nothing hinders some from being perfect without being in the state of perfection, and some in the state of perfection without being perfect.”[8]

This doctrine on the state of perfection survived essentially unchanged in the life and teaching of the Church until the twentieth century, which inaugurated a true development of doctrine in the Christian conception of marriage, above all during the pontificate of St. John Paul II. As mentioned above, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church definitively proposed a new interpretation of Christ’s conversation with the rich young man. Radically prior to the distinction between the states of marriage and virginity, the Council implicitly recognizes one state of life common to all the Christifideles, marked by a common vocation: “In the Church, everyone, whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness.”[9] This vocation to holiness is by its very nature one, that is, there is not one standard of holiness for religious and another, less exacting standard for married people; there is only “the holiness of the Church,” which “is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life [vitæ ordine], tend toward the perfection of charity.”[10] As St. Thomas teaches, “the perfection of Christian life consists radically in charity,”[11] for “charity, as the bond of perfection and the fullness of the law, rules over all the means of attaining holiness and gives life to these same means.”[12] Therefore, each Christian state of life which follows upon and specifies this first and universal state must be ordered to the perfection of charity, as a means is ordered to an end. 

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church further links this universal call to perfect charity with “the practice of the counsels.”[13] Indeed, as noted above by St. John Paul II in his commentary on the call to perfect love, “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple,”[14] although “an eminent position among these [disciples to whom they are proposed] is held by virginity or the celibate state.”[15] The “particular honor” and eminence afforded to the state of virginity is due to the Church’s grateful recognition that those who profess it “devote themselves to God the more easily, with an undivided heart,” that this undivided devotion is a most effective “incentive to charity, and is certainly a particular source of spiritual fecundity in the world.”[16] It is certainly no incidental fact that the Lord Himself was celibate, nor that St. Paul counseled those who were unmarried to remain so, since “the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).[17] Both the Church’s praise for virginity and St. Paul’s hesitancy towards marriage hinge on the recognition that the human heart is in some sense “divisible,” that the professed virgin, on the one hand, belongs entirely to God, while the married man or woman, on the other, seems to belong only partially to Him and partially to his or her spouse. 

What is most essentially praiseworthy in the state of consecrated virginity, then, is the integration of the heart that naturally results from its single-minded focus on the Beloved God: it is “the full flowering of the humanity given to us by God,” as one consecrated virgin puts it, “and the fulfillment of all of its authentic desires … through a super-affirmation that allows these desires to find their free expression and consummation on a deeper and even more real level.”[18] It is above all the practice of the evangelical counsels in the state of virginity which affords this integration, since the human person, made in the image and likeness of the all-loving, self-giving God,  “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”[19] Living the counsels means living a life of total self-gift, “offering to God all that one has”[20]in a holocaust of love. Like Mary, the consecrated virgin who professes poverty, chastity and obedience gives God a “total ‘yes’ … a yes that wants to give everything to the beloved in order to become totally dispossessed of one’s self.”[21] It is this dispossession of self at the deepest level of the heart which effects the integration of the human person and opens up into perfect charity and spiritual fruitfulness. The final and definitive words of Lumen gentium on the universal call to holiness, however, leave no doubt that the practice of the evangelical counsels, as the Church’s treasured means of integrating the human heart and nurturing perfect love, belongs not just to those called to the highly esteemed state of virginity, but to the common state of life of all the baptized:

Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive. Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul. Let neither the use of the things of this world nor attachment to riches, which is against the spirit of evangelical poverty, hinder them in their quest for perfect love.[22]

“Even those in marriage,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens allows, “must learn not to be ruled by the threefold lust [of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life] and live a kind of chastity, poverty, and obedience proper to their state.”[23] We might go one step further and argue that Christian marriage itself presupposes and demands the practice of the evangelical counsels in order to attain the goal of perfect love. As Hans Urs von Balthasar notes, the attitude of absolute self-dispossession which is inculcated by the practice of the counsels and which integrates the human heart “has only one analogy: the indivisibility and indissolubility of the yes given in marriage.”[24] Significantly, the praenotanda to the Rite of Matrimony teach that “the true development of conjugal love and the whole meaning of family life, without diminishment of the other ends of Marriage, are directed to disposing Christian spouses to cooperate wholeheartedly with the love of the Creator … They glorify the Creator and strive for perfection in Christ, as they carry out the role of procreation with generous, human and Christian responsibility.”[25]

In order to realize this goal, the Church extends to Christian spouses the means of perfection, the evangelical counsels, to be lived in accord with their state in life. As one married couple remarks, “The family provides countless opportunities for practicing community of goods, for sharing, for poverty of spirit. It’s our house; not my house. They are our children, not my children,”[26] and so on. Conjugal poverty is lived out in the willing dispossession of what was one’s own for the good of the family. Conjugal chastity entails a true “chastity of the heart: an undivided clinging to God with the affections of the heart,”[27] such that the heart of husband and wife each remains united to God and “refrains from delighting in union with other things against the requirement of the order established by God.”[28] In effect, the spouses must remember—and remind one another—that their final end and ultimate fulfillment lies in union with God, whose love is mediated through their chaste conjugal love for one another and for their children. Finally, Christian marriage is lived in mutual obedience: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). The same spouses remark, 

The myriad acts of self-denial demanded by family life may not be commanded by obedience, but … is it not true that the voice of God speaks to us, the married, no less authoritatively in the midnight cry of our baby in pain or discomfort, the hungry plea of our preschooler, the worried questions of our teenagers, the desire of our son to be read to or taken for a walk than it does in the measured tones of the superior?[29]

Though Christian spouses do not profess the evangelical counsels as public vows, the whole orientation of their conjugal state in life, understood in light of the Magisterium of the Church in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, demands and indeed presupposes the exercise of the counsels in order to achieve their supernatural end. Therefore, while the state of marriage may not meet the formal definition of the state of perfection, it is certainly a state of life wholly conducive to the perfection of love for those called to live it. As St. Francis de Sales advised his lay directees, “it is not necessary that vows be made, provided they be observed.”[32] May the Church in our century be enriched with the flowering of many holy Christian couples and families, following the example of Ss. Louis and Zélie Martin, for the building up of a civilization of love in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God. 


[1] Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006).

[2] St. John Paul II, Redemptor hominis [The Redeemer of Man] (4 March 1979), §18.

[3] St. Paul VI, Lumen gentium [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church] (November 21, 1964), §39.

[4] Redemptor hominis, §16.

[5] Origen, “Homily on the Renunciation of the World,” qtd. in Rev. Blaise Berg, lecture on Marriage and State of Life (Menlo Park, CA: St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, September 25, 2022).

[6] Eusebius of Caesarea, The Proof of the Gospel, vol. 1, 8, trans. W. J. Ferrar (New York: Macmillan, 1920).

[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 184, a. 4, corpus, trans. Rev. Laurence Shapcote, at https://aquinas.cc. 

[8] Ibid.

[9] Lumen gentium, §39.

[10] Ibid.

[11] ST,, II-II, q. 184, a. 1, corpus.

[12] Lumen gentium, §42.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 915.

[15] Lumen gentium, §42.

[16] Ibid. Emphasis added.   

[17] Emphasis added.

[18] Joshua Elzner, “Spiritual Senses: You Touched Me and I Burned for Your Peace,” Thoughts in Solitude: Reflections of a Beloved Child of God, March 3, 2019, http://www.atthewellspring.com.

[19] St. Paul VI, Gaudium et spes [Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] (7 December 1965), §22.

[20] ST, III, q. 186, a. 7, corpus.

[21] Most Rev. Andrew Cozzens, A Living Image of the Bridegroom: The Priesthood and the Evangelical Counsels (Omaha, NE: Institute for Priestly Formation, 2020), 145.

[22] Lumen gentium, §42. Emphasis added.

[23] Cozzens, A Living Image of the Bridegroom, 152-3.

[24] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Laity and the Life of the Counsels: The Church’s Mission in the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003)188.

[25] The Order of Celebrating Matrimony (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016), no. 10.

[26] Clarence and Kathleen Enzler, “Sanctity in Marriage: It’s the Same Difference,” in Sanctity and Success in Marriage (Boston: National Catholic Conference on Family Life, 1956), accessed at http://www.catholicculture.org.

[27] Cozzens, A Living Image of the Bridegroom, 172.

[28] ST, II-II, q. 151, a. 2, corpus.

[29] Enzler and Enzler, “Sanctity in Marriage.”

[30] St. Francis de Sales, An Introduction to the Devout Life (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885), 154. 

[31] José Cardinal Saraiva Martins, “Witnesses to Conjugal Love,” homily on the occasion of the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin (October 19, 2008), at http://www.louisandzeliemartin.org.

[32] St. Francis de Sales, An Introduction to the Devout Life (Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885), 154. 

Kyrie, Eleison!

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 9, 2022. The audio is available here.


The lepers stood at a distance as Jesus and his disciples passed by.

Though crowds of people from the village came out to meet Jesus on the road, the lepers did not dare to join them.

Too many times, they had heard the sharp words, and felt the sting of rocks thrown by neighbors to keep them away.

So they stood apart, in the shadow of the trees by the side of the road.

But they, too, had heard about Jesus, the healings he had done…

And as the crowd passed by, the lepers looked uncertainly at each other.

Every one of them saw the same thought, the same longing mixed with fear and shame, reflected in the others’ faces.

If they could only get close enough, then maybe, just maybe, Jesus could save them, too.

Like the lepers, sometimes we find ourselves standing at a distance from Jesus.

The fact is that all of us are sick, wounded and broken.

Sin is spiritual disease, and it has left its mark on every one of us.

Whether it’s the festering unforgiveness that divides families and poisons relationships, the secret vice or addiction that slowly consumes us, the subtle pride that isolates us…

Sin spreads through our lives like a cancer.

But unlike leprosy, which is on the skin and visible to everyone, the cancer of sin ravages our invisible souls … and so we can choose to hide it.

As we choose to hide the sick and broken state of our souls, we find ourselves increasingly living a double life, one public version of ourselves that is “Christian,” respectable, and one that is hidden, in the shadows.

We feel constantly guilty, constantly lying, so that no one will see how “messed up” we really are beneath the surface.

And as a result, even our closest relationships become superficial and unsatisfying.

We feel no one really knows us or loves us.

Sometimes, we even hate ourselves … and we believe that God hates us, too.

The lepers felt that hatred, the shame, the isolation, the fear of rejection.

Yet even still, they looked after Jesus with longing as he passed … and at that moment, Jesus turned his head and met one leper’s eyes.

Across the distance that divided them, Jesus and the leper gazed at one another.

And all at once, a cry burst out from the leper’s lips like a pent-up river suddenly breaking through a dam: 

“Jesus—Master!”

And with one voice, the others joined in their cry: “Jesus, Lord! Kyrie, eleison! Lord, have mercy on us!”

Jesus sees us in our brokenness.

And when we cry out to Him in faith to save us, revealing the true condition of our sick and broken souls, Jesus, gazing at us in the truth of who we are with tender love and mercy, says to us what he said to the lepers: “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

As we obey His command, confessing our sins to the priests of the Church, we, too, find ourselves miraculously healed and cleansed, made innocent again like little children, set free from guilt, reconciled with God, at peace with ourselves and others.

In this beautiful sacrament of confession, we reveal our sickness, looking squarely at the sins we have committed and the damage they have done.

We take responsibility for them before God, and we open ourselves up to forgiveness and life in communion with God in the Church.

As we confess our sins, our lives begin to change from the inside out.

We begin to learn the virtue of true patience with ourselves, striving to overcome sin, yet always relying on God’s saving mercy. 

Instead of fearing rejection and avoiding connection, we begin to live in community, seeking out other people who are living honestly, in the truth, and being transformed like us by the grace and mercy of God.

Instead of hypocritical self-righteousness and pride, we begin to act graciously, with mercy, toward other broken people, as Jesus acts with us.

And like the leper, we fall at the feet of Jesus every day in constant gratitude for a God who not only accepts us, sick and broken as we are, but who heals all our diseases and restores us to life.

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we meet the gaze of Jesus in the Eucharistic Host, cry out to Him with faith: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Ask Him for the grace to make a good confession.

This week, take 15 minutes to consider in prayer: what sins have left your soul wounded, sick, in need of a savior?

And commit to come to confession here, next Saturday at 3 PM.

To every repentant sinner who cries out to Him in faith and makes a good confession, Jesus says, “Arise and go; your faith has saved you.”

And on the last day, when he returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, Jesus will find us, like the leper, washed and waiting for the kingdom of God.

Pray Imperfectly

This homily was given at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University, Menlo Park, CA on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7, 2022.


In an obscure convent in France, a young nun worked in the sacristy.

Day in and day out, as the sacred vessels passed through her hands, like the beads on her rosary, each chalice, each paten, became a prayer rising up to Heaven.

The nun was St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

But this great saint, this doctor of prayer, who taught the Church her “little way” of doing small things with great love, struggled with praying the rosary.

Thérèse confesses, in her Story of a Soul, “The recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than wearing an instrument of penance! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them.”

But in her struggle with the rosary, Our Lady taught St. Thérèse a secret.

“For a long time,” says Thérèse, “I was desolate my this lack of devotion, but now I think the Queen of heaven, my MOTHER, must see my good will, and she is satisfied with it.”

Dear friends, the struggle for sanctity, the battle of prayer, is fought and won … in the will. Not the emotions, not external successes, but the choice to love.

At the Annunciation, heaven and earth waited for Mary’s choice, her fiat, the determination of her free will to love God and abandon herself to Him.

Likewise, the “great love” that Thérèse talks about consists, not in pious thoughts or feelings, not in successes, not in doing it all perfectly, but only in the determined choice of our free will to love God and please Him.

At work and in prayer, Thérèse learned to offer everything simply, humbly, to le bon Jésus, and Jesus, her Beloved, was well pleased to accept such offerings, made beautiful and spotless not so much by the labor of her hands, polishing the chalices, as by the determination of her will to love Him in all things.

Today, at this Holy Mass, as we receive Jesus in the spotless Host, ask Him for that same simplicity of heart, the grace to offer our work and prayer today and every day with determined love, and surrender everything else to Him. 

As we work and pray the way Mary taught St. Thérèse, simply, but with ever more determined love, we shall rejoice in the final victory of love with Our Lady, St. Thérèse, and all the saints, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.