Saturday, April 13, 2013

HOMILY 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C)

One thing that I don’t feel that I always do well as a father and husband is to ensure that my family knows and experiences the great joy and happiness of our faith. I want them to always know that our Catholic Church is a Church of great joy and happiness. The same joy that we celebrate in a special way this Easter season; the same joy that the Apostles, in the first reading, must have felt as they rejoiced in the face of the same people who had just killed their friend and their Lord; the same joy with which the Psalmist confidently and joyfully praises the Lord, who has rescued us; and the same joy, echoed in our second reading, which is sung by every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, by everything in the universe. I wish to do this more/better because too often (and too easily) our Catholic Church is characterized as being just the opposite. So, in the second in my series of homilies during this Year of Faith, I will return Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book – the Seven Big Myths of the Catholic Church – to address the myth that our Catholic Church opposes freedom and happiness. This myth goes something like this: The “Church” always says “no” to anything that might make us happy or be of any fun, and even further the “Church” is controlling and suppresses our personal freedom. The short answer is that the Catholic Church is actually a great advocate and support of personal freedom and happiness – that is TRUE freedom and TRUE happiness. In fact, the Church’s primary goal and purpose is to get you, me (and as many others as we can) to Heaven, where there is eternal peace, joy and happiness. In his chapter on this myth, Dr. Kaczor spends a lot of time defining what happiness is, relying on science, philosophy and psychology – which I will not repeat in detail now. I will only summarize by saying that we can understand objectively what happiness is and that we experience different levels of happiness. For me, also, it is important to also understand that there exists a natural desire for happiness, which is of divine origin. Because man is created by God and for God and out of love, only in God will we find true happiness. So, does the Church oppose happiness? No, let me explain why this is true. If one level happiness is found in bodily pleasure, then we can say that the Church does not oppose such happiness. The pleasure that comes from good activities – like drinking water when thirsty, eating when hungry, or even the intimacy between a husband and wife – are good things, which the Church would say should be experienced and even enjoyed. However, as Dr. Kaczor reminds us, when the use of alcohol, food or sex undermines our own well-being and the well-being of others, we reduce our ability to be happy and to have even greater happiness. And so, the Church cautions us to temper such pleasures and avoid abuse. This is often the “no” we hear from the Church – and the “no” society obsesses over. Just as the Church does not oppose pleasure that comes from good things, the Church also does not oppose a higher level of happiness that comes from achieving a competitive advantage as measured by money, fame, power, popularity. There is nothing wrong with money, power, fame, or prestige, or even just wanting them. However, like the pursuit of pleasure, the problem comes when our pursuit for competitive advantage becomes disordered and trumps a greater happiness – the love for God and others. In fact, much has been written recently by our Popes and Bishops on how we as Catholics can participate morally, ethically, and successfully in today’s market place – always upholding the dignity of the human person in the pursuit of happiness. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with money, worldly success, or bodily pleasures. The problem comes when we think that these are the ultimate goals of life or when we seek these things exclusively and never seek higher or greater levels of happiness. The Church teaches that: even if we had all the money, fame, and power in the world, all the bodily pleasure we could handle, and the worldly success possible, we would not be truly happy if we did not know and experience the love of God and others. Jesus made this point very clear when he taught us the two greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Happiness ultimately consists in a rightly ordered love: love for God - first, love for others - second, and the love of things - last. To be clear about what the Church opposes – the Church opposes a false happiness that places greater value on wealth, fame, power, and pleasure over love. As Dr. Kaczor states: All the prohibitions taught by the Church – all the times the Church says “no” – are in service to an overriding “yes” to a love for God and neighbor. The Ten Commandments, for example, are the loving “no” of the Church, pointing us to a “yes” to a love of God and neighbor. We find great happiness in loving and serving others. And I agree with Dr. Kaczor when he says some of the happiest people have meaningful work or volunteer experiences in service of others, and who also have strong, loving relationships with family, friends, and God. Few activities are more meaningful, significant, and joyful than teaching, helping and caring for others. I see that joy in the face of parents helping their children. I see that in the faces of Father Kavanagh and Sister Barbara who serve our parish needs so well. I see it in the faces of our parishioners when the serve a monthly meal to the homeless through the Open Shelter. And I know that I will see it in your and the faces of the Knights of Columbus who will be collecting after this Mass any loose change you might have to support our seminarians studying for the priesthood. Ultimately, as Dr. Kaczor points out, the primary mission of the Church is to “reconcile all people to God the Father,” which happens to also be the greatest longing for happiness we have and also the greatest source of happiness we can have. So, to this point, there is lots of research to show that people who practice their faith are happier in all aspects of their life. Certainly, we can attribute these benefits in part to belonging to a community – I know that I am happier because I am a member of the OLP community. However, there is also something more to our Catholic faith and practice that brings us even greater happiness – and that is the eternal teachings of Jesus, echoed liturgically by the Church, which promote happiness. For example, the trait of forgiveness is strongly linked to happiness. As Dr. Kaczor notes: those who forgive and let go of their resentments, cease mulling over pain and hurt, and therefore live fuller and happier lives. A second trait that is beautifully promoted by our Church to bring us happiness is the virtue of hope. With hope, we can endure current suffering and trials, trusting that with God’s help perfect happiness is attainable in the life to come. And, finally, the emphasis of gratitude and thanksgiving in the spiritual practices of the Church lead us to greater happiness. Those who are grateful and practice giving thanks to others have significantly higher levels of happiness than those who do not. In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times if he, Peter, loves him. There is a lot to this passage, but one thing that Jesus is stressing to Peter is that he has a choice – to follow Jesus or not. Our loving Creator gives us the gift of free will. So, the choice presented to Peter is also presented to each of us. Do we want true happiness now and eternally? Do we want to be part of a Church whose mission it is to teach and encourage true happiness? Then say yes to Jesus! Say yes, of course I love you and will follow you and your Church so that I may know your true happiness now and eternally.