St. Jerome and the Bible

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Photo: St. Jerome’s parish in the Bronx (Archdiocese of New York)

As I get ready to preach tonight’s Mass (9-30) on this memorial of Jerome, I think of a few things associated with him.

He is a scholar born at the right time. When the Church was finally free to assemble the “canon” (official booklist of the Bible) as well form a tight translation of all of them– Jerome was alive and ready for the task. Jesus put him there in that era. While secretary of Pope Damascus, he worked on the project. Jerome was a priest and a scholar. He was raised Catholic and given much opportunity to grow his keen mind.

He was known to have a determined and demanding way about him. In the academic pursuits– this was a plus. In the social world– not so much. Of our Christian call to being a nice neighbor, Jerome wasn’t one for much pleasantries. He was all business and difficult about it. This tells me that a saint may not always be the one with the winning personality, but someone who surely is faithful to the Lord’s work to be done. The Bible project got finished under Jerome; it was well done. They call this Bible “The Vulgate.” It was a magnificant work.

His most faithful assistant was Paula. She was able to put up with Jerome’s disposition. That is probably why the Church named her “Saint Paula.” (Sometimes it takes a saint to live with a saint!)

Below: Response by Pope Damascus after telling Fr. Jerome to work on a new canon for the Church to use
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Jerome’s irascible way and his sharp, to-the-point tongue got him to be disliked in the Church by some. One pope, though aware of Jerome’s great scholarly abilities, said he did not want to ever have the misfortune of conversing with him again (so difficult did he find Jerome to be). They would not meet again. When a new pope was named, St. Jerome was back in favor with the papacy. (Maybe Jerome learned to cool it later in life.)

Jerome is patron saint of the Bible. He (a Catholic) organized/translated the first official Bible. Thus, Catholics have had Bibles for 16 centuries, and we were the ones who put it together and in whose authority decided the books (73) to go into it, as well as the authority to properly interpret it and use it among the Faithful (like in liturgy or in Scripture study). The successors to the apostles led this enterprise, as well as did they write creeds and other important Christian instruction after the Fall of the Roman Empire. They could come out into the open (finally) and do it in the 4th century, but not beforehand. The Scriptures were safeguarded in the first several generations of The Church, with scrolls protected and copies and handled secretly in many places across the world. There is a St. Jerome Edition of the Catholic Bible that pays tribute to this Saint of the Bible (and of librarians, by the way, too).

The Councils of the Catholic Church that approved of the Bible, as we know it today, were the Council of Hippo (393 a.d.) and Councils of Carthage (397 and 419 a.d.). At the time of Reformation protests versus Catholicism, it was formally defined (again) by the Council of Trent in 1546.

What was this saint’s real birth name? He was Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius, which explains how Jerome or Jerry became much more favored!

Someone told me last Sunday about how difficult the “thou art’s” and “witherto’s” and “spakes” and “praise ye’s” are to read in their Bible. They wanted to know why the Church put in this language–was Jesus speaking it? I surmised that they were probably reading a King James Bible or related version, which was the King’s English version written of about 500 years ago (used up to now, as well as a New King James Bible); it was named the official version of all Protestant and non-Catholic Christians for centuries. I said to the person that their Bible version sounds like old English literature because it was translated as such– to sound like Jesus was English, and all that henceforth, withertoo, and what-not about the Brits.
Jerome’s original Bible translation was in Latin. The Hebrew Testament was mostly in Hebrew, but also Greek. The New Testament had Koine Greek. By the way, Jesus spoke Aramaic. And he spoke plainly- not with a fancy, formal tongue. (Formal English was neither a language, just to add.) Anyway, I told them to buy a Catholic Bible for starters. And, if they had liked the Shakesperian, flowery language–that our Duoay-Rheims Bible offers something in that category. (I don’t prefer it, myself.) If not, then if they liked the version proclaimed at Masses, the New American Bible was for them. (Not to be confused with the New American Standard version, which is Protestant!) There are numerous modern English Bible versions. Only a few are Catholic (e.g. Revised and New Revised Standard Versions), and one can see and shop for one on websites like catholicfamilycatalog.com.

What’s an interesting fun fact that most people don’t know of Jerome? That Jerome funded with Paula a monastery for men built near the basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem in Israel, which also had houses for three communities of women. Paula became head of one of these, and after her death was succeeded by her her daughter Eustochium, whom she had before becoming a widow. Jerome himself lived and worked in a large cave near the Savior’s birthplace. He opened a free school there and also a hospice for pilgrims, “so that,” as Paula said, “should Mary and Joseph visit Bethlehem again, they would have a place to stay.” In this place, Jerome enjoyed some years of peaceful activity and inter-cultural relations. (How’s that for a fun fact?!)

Besides the Bible translation and compilation, what else did Jerome write about? Whenever the Catholic Faith was seriously threatened with errors from some other Christian’s tongue or pen, Jerome could not stay silent. While at Rome in the time of Pope Damasus, he had composed a book on the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary against one Helvidius, who had maintained that Mary had not remained always a virgin but had had other children by St. Joseph, after the birth of Christ. This and similar ideas were now again put forward by a certain Jovinian, who had been a monk. In 393, Jerome wrote two books against Jovinian, describing the excellence of virginity (which had been questioned) while also praising the marriage of Joseph and Mary as a good and honorable one. In regard to re-marriage, which was posed to him (as Jerome wrote a third book), he said he did not rule out Joseph’s possibility of it in marrying as a widower to Mary. Jerome said that such re-marriages should be respected, and not condemned (as some had viewed of it).

Jerome also defended celibacy for the Church with great vigor (having been a celibate himself, and Paula having practiced celibacy after her marriage had ended). Jerome also held the veneration of saint’s relics as a good practice of remembering the Church’s past practice, upon which a believer could build upon their present faith. One Vigilantius, a Gallic priest, had denounced these things, and Jerome felt the need for correction to be made.

St. Jerome has many parishes named after him. One is on Rt. 1 in Hyattsville, Md. nearby in PG County. The students at DeMatha High School know of it, because their school is right behind it. There is a St. Jerome’s (top photo) in the Bronx of New York City that produced a priest vocation who had studied with me in seminary. That seminarian and later Fr. Dick Fowler, had been a New York policeman prior to seminary. There is a St. Jerome’s in Phoenix, another one in Chicago in the Croatian neighborhood, and another one in Philadelphia. Really, they are all over. From the parish of his name’s sake in Houston, I share the below stained glass window of St. Jerome. IMG_07881

Sunday Homily 9/28/14 Has God been fair to us?

HOMILY BLOG VERSION (longer than pulpit one)

Are God’s Ways fair or not?

There’s our question from our first reading and the prophet Ezekiel.

The prophet asks the question because he knows that some Hebrew people (of his time and in the generations right before him) would rather have trusted the world’s ways, and their own independent ones, and not God’s. In this brash attitude up to this point, they have accused God of “not being fair.” Along with all the excuses and dodges of spiritual responsibility of the past, they have now reaped what they have sown. They have lost a lot. They have been forced by an enemy out of the homeland to be slaves elsewhere. As with many of the Jews of Ezekiel’s time, who were all deported (along with Ezekiel) out of Israel, Ezekiel asks the stinging question: So, you say you’d rather trust yourselves and the world over God, how is that working out for you?! You have lost practically everything, and are deported to Babylon! You are so weak in your faith! God had given you many opportunities to be loved by Him and led by Him, but you chose otherwise or elsewise.

Yes, as we look at Zeke’s time period as a prophet, which was about 6 centuries or so prior to The Coming of Christ, the “Chosen People” of the Jews decided against this opportunity with God, of believing and working with Him. Rather than be faith partners with the God of Israel, they took another path, away from trust and obedience and love of God.

Ezekiel posed to them (as his words may pose to all compromisers and bargainers and part-practitioners of Catholic Faith today): “Perhaps you people have regrets for your past choices, and can re-consider, now, how the Lord IS fair and good, and has been so all along with you, with good things in mind for you! Are you sorry for when you have frequently turned Him down? Were those good choices you made? What about your choices ahead?

Ezekiel is not being a high and mighty I-told-you-so-prophet here. He himself is caught in the mess of an exile and the slavery under another people. He once was priest to the Temple of Israel, but all that is lost now. The Temple is destroyed. They are all in turmoil, but he will be a prophet himself in his service for the Lord. He is a simple but deep man of trust in the Lord. He will give some imagery and some visions that he has received of The Lord. He will share it with People Israel. (And, thus, to ourselves today.)

“Why not do the things the Lord asks of you and be obedient to Him as your demonstration of loving and serving God?” This is Ezekiel’s question.

Let’s apply his question on to Catholics today. The Catholic Faith seems to be eroding in practice today. People have lots of compromises going on with the Truth. We Catholics have some reputation of not all being on board with trusting and obeying God (and living out our faith). But, like Israel, we know that God has given us revelation and the means to respond to Him fully and faith-fully. We have some comparable things to Ezekiel’s audience, too, in that People Israel had taken their compromise of heart way too far, except for the fact that we have not lost our land, while People Israel did. Catholics in America see our freedoms and practices are greatly being tested and threatened, but it is not lost (yet). We hope we can respond and reform before we would get into the kind of situation that People Israel got into.

The compromised people in their religion (Catholic, other Christians, or these Jews of Ezekiel’s era) normally do know what the Lord has revealed as Truth, and what God has taught, but they choose anyway to not keep to these ‘high standards.’ They often ask what the Lord’s minimum requirement is. As if to say: How little can I love you and still please you? It is really the wrong approach! Today, some persons blame the Church for being too hard, yet, most of the areas in question are not man-made laws but God’s unchanging law, as revealed for the Church to uphold, as His law. For instance, they say: The Church demands I go every weekend to Mass. I disagree that I need to do that. Ok. It’s personal opinion. Yet what of the Lord’s Revelation in the Commandment “to honor the Lord’s Day?” Wasn’t that already God’s idea, not ours? They say: The Church is stuck up about saying no to intimate relations until marriage. I personally disagree in thought and in practice. Yet, what of the Bible’s teachings from the start about such immorality keeping one from inheriting the kingdom of God? Is it not God’s Word and its admonitions that some are fighting, and not really (first) the Church? Are they not saying: God’s Way is Not Fair. It is Not Reasonable. It is Not Convenient and Likeable to me.

In the fold of the Church today, some people have lived in compromise to the Faith, and have cut corners on keeping or practicing the Faith. They should be admonished. A prophetic word of God comes today in the Mass today from the 1st reading. Whether with compromised Jews then, or compromised Catholics or other Christians today: God calls for no compromise. These actions and practices of ‘believers’ designing their own truth outside of the Church’s or Jesus’ truth– it speaks of the activity that Ezekiel’s words of old addressed: Are you unfair with God? Are you telling God what will be right and wrong now? Do you think this way of the world (this independent way of human pride) is actually doing any good any where? Is it fair for others? As like when they are sinned against?

Ezekiel would ask us now: “Why don’t you trust the Lord’s ways? If the teachings of Christ are passed on by the Catholic Church, as commissioned by Jesus, and The Lord asks you to live a certain way– then, why do you not practice this way, instead of settling for choosing an alternate way of obvious compromise? Why is obedience to God a chore to you, rather than seen as a gift of love to give your trust back to God, by practicing fidelity to His ways?”

In our Autumn series of homilies from Deacon Barnes and I through Advent, we are addressing the call to practice the Faith, or to “do Catholicism” –that is, to not be ashamed to live the teachings of the Church and the Way of Christ and His Gospel– but to just “do it.” You might not feel like doing it– as we heard in the Gospel today of someone not feeling like doing the work– but they buckle up and do the work, good feelings put aside. Just be faithful.

I was talking to a church-goer here that was sharing with me how they are involved in some charitable outreaches as well as in some good neighbor actions in her life as a Catholic. I asked permission to share of these good actions of theirs in this homily, to fit our theme, and they said: “You may.” Yet then they said: “Rather that talk of my various good deeds which I am currently doing in Christ, I would rather you talk of my “doing faith” as my first and utmost practice of any ‘works for God.’ My “faith in action” is foremost my fidelity to the Church’s teachings against a tide of Catholics who are not practicing it fully. This is the harder work of The Lord to exercise, for even sometimes, as I practice fully of what it is to be faithful to God, I am put down by some other Catholics as being too strict or severe. Meaning, they must not be living these teachings much at all, as to be putting me down so much for being sincere in my practice. So– when it comes to my “doing faith,” I think my trust in God’s teachings is my greater demonstration of faith, instead of my service in various charities. And I think, that to God, it is the work that matters most to Him.”

I said: “Ok. You say you keep the Lord’s teachings. That’s great.” They said: “Yes, like the prophet’s exhortation, I think that the Lord’s way can be trusted. I encourage others to believe God is trustworthy. Ever since I have been young, I have believed and practiced that I should be at Mass for Sundays, and Holy Days, and some other special worship occasions. I also go to confession with some occasion. I trust that the Lord Who asked me to do these things in the Church can be trusted, and that He is fair and good to ask it of me, and that He is pleased with me when I do it. I come to worship Him regularly.”

“And, what about others?” I asked. They said: “With that easy one, an hour for Mass each week, a lot of people give themselves excuses to miss their worship time and to pass up special occasions like Holy Thursday or Good Friday or even Easter to celebrate the most meaningful days of the Year of Faith. They’ve got something else going on. I guess, in some ways, they don’t think it is fair for God (or the Church) to ask of them to organize their lives around the Lord and worship of Him. (Like in our first reading’s message today.) These compromised believers diminish their need to grow and convert more into the Way of imitating Christ, and so pass up things like practice of the Sacrament of Confession. They give donations to the Church, too, it seems, only as an after-thought, not as a first consideration and a sacrificial offering. Other things like phone bills and internet bills and conveniences of the communication age have their obvious priority…Gee, Father, I just can’t live that half-hearted way in The Faith. It is not sincere to God,” said they.

I said: “Good points, all of them. Due to the changing job situations, some people are made to work on Sundays, or do so as a second job to make ends meet.” They said: I get that. I am not pointing fingers. There are lots of Masses offered around here to assist people’s schedules. Or, they could make their off-day or off-morning or off-evening their time to come to Mass. I have seen some such people still putting up the effort to please God somehow. That’s what he’s looking for. We are not perfect, but He has offered us ways to please Him.

This person did not mean to be sitting in judgment on any fellow believers. I understood their point. Like another Catholic recently said: “I see myself as doing well in keeping Catholic, but still probably would be at an 85% practice of it, at best, maybe much less. I’d barely give myself a “B” grade, if on a scale like school. The saints were all our A-plus practitioners of faith in the 94% to 100% range, if one were keeping watch of them. Thus, I am nobody. I have a long way to go. My need to keep growing in holiness is there, just like other people’s need to grow in holiness is there, from wherever they are. The point is– are Catholics whole-heartedly living to practice their faith and get better? That’s where the “wanna-be-saints” are all at.

This person who is my homily example today told me that they ended up becoming a single parent, due to their partner not living in faith, and leaving their family over their selfish and sinful adventures. This added to their challenge of keeping in Catholic Faith. This person said how they had to finish raising some children in the home– doing so in a solo way. The partner took off. That wasn’t fair to them or to the children. Yet they did not doubt that God was still fair to them. The world wasn’t fair, yet God was. They kept their family and home going, even while still giving support to the parish church… They said that they do all of this and are somewhat laughed at by other believers, as if they are naïve or something. But they said: “I give to God because I love God. I will not be unfair to the Lord I love.” Wow. What a testimony.

I said: “You are not naïve, but rather, you are innocent. You want the Innocent Christ to be in your life. You openly invite God in these ways to be the center of your life.” The testimony of this church-goer (and another) in the pew pointed me to the reality in their heart that Jesus is The Person, so Pure of Heart and Good and Trustworthy, Who has asked each of us to join with Him in our journey, and for us to participate with Him in our lives, so to receive more and more of His innocence. He DID say: “Become like a child (in their innocence) for to such as these belong the kingdom of God.”

Ezekiel the prophet said that God IS fair and good and trustworthy. His ways are right. Ezekiel said to those who would listen, that, even in their pain and loss in the exile, they could use the opportunity to rely on God again with their lives. What would happen if they did? A rebound of faith! He says later in his prophetic book that people would receive a new heart, fresh help from God’s Spirit, and find themselves back in good graces with the Lord of All. (Chapter 34 through 36 of Ezekiel’s prophetic book especially gives this message.) But, the first steps, here listed in Ezekiel 18, of today’s Word in the Church, is that we innocently and fully believe in God again, all the way, and not of the world and its independent ways. God is to be trusted, and we are not to trust and align with sinful humankind.

If we have fallen for the deceptions of the world, and trusted it erroneously, Ezekiel preaches for the turn-around and the come-back to faith. There is hope for the fallen, too. Many who originally heard Ezekiel were of the camp of the formerly resistant to God people; Ezekiel is calling for the true Jews to rise up again–even if in captivity to a foreign power now. He says to that camp: Have your ways been unfair with God? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he/she committed that they must die. BUT IF THE TURN from the wickedness committed, to then do what is right and just, he/she shall preserve their life… he/she shall surely live, and not die.”

It all does get down to Ezekiel’s question of what we are to do or not to do in our lives: Is God’s way fair and good? Will we live by it and trust God for it? God is there for us. We are called to walk as partners. Is your hand in His? Fully?
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Baseball’s farewell to #2: the Captain.

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He played for a team I like to root against. The Yankees. He played his whole career with them– at shortstop. They won a lot of games with him and made many playoff appearances and some World Series. Meanwhile, our local Baltimore 0’s have mostly been also-rans and finished behind his New York teams in recent decades while he’s played.

So while we 0’s fans despised the Yanks success over us, few of us had anything bad or cutting to say of NY’s captain: Derek Jeter. He was a class act, a hard nosed player, and a genuine star player that you had to like– even if he was wearing their pinstripes. He played every day like he appreciated and enjoyed the game of baseball and knew its meaning for the real fans of the sport. We saw that and took note. Bravo.

This year his team will not make the playoffs, so his season (and playing career) will finish this weekend. His last home game will be tomorrow at Yankee Stadium
I went up earlier this Summer and saw him play a game there. I took the above photo. Plus, their were tributes to him around New York City, such as his photo on city busses. (See photo.)

Goodbye #2, Derek Jeter, shortstop, one of the greats. There may not be another lifetime Yankee to follow that meets your standard or that of others in ‘your league’ (like Mantle, DiMaggio, Rivera, Berra or Gehrig). Like our Cal Ripken of Baltimore, you stand apart as a loyal long-time star ballplayer for the local team. You were good for the game.

I saw you play a couple of games in Orioles Park this Summer, too. The O’ s won both times; you had just average play, but you got a big hand from our gsns. Considering you play for the Yankees, our standing up for you and applauding in our home park for any Yank was what Nicholas Cage phrased in a movie line (and it aptly fits here): HIGH PRAISE, Derek. Only because its you, man!
(We’ll keep booing next season each time when Bronx Bomber 1st baseman Mark Texiera gets up to bat–I guarantee you that.)
Now on to a possible World Series for the local Orioles and/or Nationals!

Now pitching for your Baltimore Orioles, John “The Screwball” Barry. #12+1/2. IMG_20140414_134841

Isaiah’s Message: Faith–Just Live and Do It! *God’s Way (it’s higher and better and proven!)

HOMILY SUNDAY SEPT. 21
FR. BARRY
Text Isaiah 55:6-9

FAITH: JUST LIVE AND DO IT: GOD’S WAY!
It’s sounds like a Nike Ad, but it’s the prophet Isaiah saying to the floundering-in-faith Hebrew people: “Faith: Just Live and Do It, God’s Way!” He says to them: ‘Hey, we have been given this human life by God, Who asks that we trust Him and that we try a life of giving and doing and serving and believing according to His Way. It’s a Higher Way, and a much more well-thought out Way in the Perfect Mind of God. That’s superior to humankind’s self capability. God’s tells us His perspective, as through Isaiah: “My thoughts are much higher that your thoughts; My Ways Higher than man’s.” So, why dis-count the wisdom of God?! It is worth seeking. Seek! While this wisdom CAN be found! Let Me reveal My Way to you.

Isaiah prophesizes to the people how the world and her independent ways from God has not found success at all– he says it in a 700 b.c. way: ‘let’s just look at the mess we are all in today in this world of such modern, proud, I-can-do-it-better than God approach. Where has it got anyone?!’ While Isaiah is the prophet of old and to the Jews, God is having him repeat the same message to us in the world of 2014 a.d. Our so-called sophisticated, techno-advanced, modern world is not pretty. We have quite a worldly mess on our hands, if we can admit it. So, God calls on His people of faith to respond. He says: ‘Show the world how it is to trust and serve Me and find happiness in My realm and care. Show Me you’ll trust My Spirit to work through you.’

For all the 10 weeks leading to Advent, we will be pondering how people in our parish have responded to His call. I would like to remark, without using names, how we do have people that are “doing the faith” (that is, living and witnessing to it). We will use the 1st reading of Mass (the Old Testament reading) each week for our prophetic exhortation or word of wisdom. Then give a parishioner or group of parishiones example of application.

We examine today just two lines of exhortation from Isaiah the prophet.

His first exhortation is “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Where might that be? Where can you find the Lord here at St. Edward the Confessor? One answer (among many) is in the classroom of catechetical instruction (or religious education as we call it); look in there and see Our Lord with young persons gathered around a volunteer teacher-catechist. There the catechist is like Isaiah:
“A Voice, speaking in the midst of our youth, crying out in the wilderness” amidst the secular humanism and ego-centricism that our young generation is surrounded by today. In the wilderness, or emptiness of our culture, the catechist calls the student to better open up their minds and hearts to the Higher and Wiser Ways of God (rather than to trust the secular culture, which so often shows it to fail to make a better world on its own). The catechist points them to “the highway of our God (Isa 40:3)” –to the Way to Knowing God and living with meaning. They prophesy and counter the ungodly voices and immoral examples from the cultural and societal wasteland. The catechist doesn’t teach that the world is bad, for most of our youth are optimistic for their lives and this planet and its people– but the catechist points out where sin and pride versus God are what can spoil or ruin life here together.

I am amazed at the impact of our catechists, these many volunteer teachers of The Catholic Faith in Jesus Christ. They can un-do and un-mask a lot of false things for the young to see and pick up on. More importantly, they can give them the truth and let God’s light show that it IS the way for a meaningful and happy life. The catechist helps the young learn lessons of faith to help keep them on the Straight and Narrow Path. The catechist’s theme might indeed be: “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” They can urge their students to “call out to Him, as He is near to you.”

As we witness to the Light of Christ, the True Way, we know it goes against a tide of falsehood and lies and deception going on today. There is a second line I want to call your attention to right out of Isaiah 55:6-9 too. The prophet cries out: “Let the sinners forsake their way, and see how they can turn to a forgiving Lord…let the way of scoundrels and wicked persons be undone.”

Here, thinking again of the catechist’s great influence, they work against the scoundels who have misled,
misguided, and deceived our young people, who have even robbed many of them of their innocence by the sinful slop they put in the media-especially tv, the internet, in games and in other places (now coming through phones, that many have). The catechist assists the parents of the child or youth in revealing the Light and exposing the darkness for what it is.

As a parish following the Teacher Jesus, we ponder and grieve over how too often the scoundrel and the
wicked persons have found access to our youth and little ones to spoil them. And we adults who haven’t defended you enough, we say sorry. In the name of ‘freedom,’ they have come in and taken innocence of your youth away, and we should have defended you, rather, in the decency of true freedom (being free to do what one ought to do). The Dictionary defines a scoundrel as “a person who is cruel or dishonest, a disreputable person, a rascal.” Such persons have been getting through to our boys and girls and youth. It is so sad to see the damage done. The innocence lost. The moral decline that is not being noticed, due to “normal” being turned on its head. All the violence, hatred, disrespect for life or other’s dignity or privacy, and for all cheating, lying and actions of vulgarity being paraded as “fun.” When instead–it’s quite disgusting.

We Catholics live The Faith as meant to be holy, sacred, special, and worthy. St. Paul said something of it in his letter to the Philippians (read today) that he hoped the same for those people in Philippi, whom he had catechized, saying: “conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”

I finish with a few words from a catechist who is giving their time to our youth to help teach in Christ to them. I asked them: “What got you going in being a catechist?” They said: ‘I was looking for something to give of myself to the parish. Someone I knew was doing Religious Ed. teaching. So I offered help there
and just joined in. I just wanted to help. Then, as I taught a class, I liked fielding the questions that the youth asked of me. It reminded me of what I was supposed to practice and be as a Catholic. It was a nice challenge. It was fun, too. The youth (in the classes) have constantly had
interesting angles to their questioning and seeking faith. So, it helped me to think about God more, too.’
I asked the catechist: “What do you think your students will remember or take from your classes?” They said: I hope that, like the people in our Bible stories, that they’ll remember how we all are imperfect people who still can put our trust in God and find the right way and practice a helpful, holy faith. We too can rely on God, find forgiveness, and get direction and grace for our lives.’

I asked the catechist: “What has been rewarding?” They said: ‘It is nice to be recognized when I am at a local store or something, in that, I was their teacher of faith once, or currently. When a young parishioner sees me, out somewhere being a regular person, but grounded in faith. It feels good and right that I am seen as a faith mentor to them.

So, I the interviewer, apply that to our Isaiah words today: God’s thoughts and God’s ways ARE as high as the heavens and above the earth– We can rely on them to be a part of us to find the Way.

Francis Scott Key Honored

Key

Francis Scott Key has received his due. We have given him honor across America. On this 200th anniversary of his writing what is now our National Anthem, I took an internet search to see how Key is honored or remembered.

Certainly all the sung National Anthems in Maryland, the USA, and worldwide are the greatest acts of recognition to Francis Scott Key. Here below are some other ways Key is honored.

• A Monument in Baltimore
• The Francis Scott Key Bridge that crosses the Potomac between Rosslyn/Arlington Virginia and Georgetown in Washington, D.C. (see vintage postcard above)
• There is a Francis Scott Key park under the Whitehurst Freeway in DC (marking, where, unfortunately, where his home was taken down six decades ago for upgrading the area). Probably some other place on that Waterfront will choose to honor his name there, as they know it was where he once lived. Alas, the Key Bridge was built to where his old home place could have seen it.
• The Francis Scott Key Bridge, part of the Baltimore Beltway crossing the outer harbor of Baltimore. The Bridge location is near at the approximate point where the British anchored to shell Fort McHenry. (It is a toll bridge, so have your money or speed pass ready!)
• St. John’s College, Annapolis, which Key graduated from in 1796, has an auditorium named in his honor.
• Francis Scott Key was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
• He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick. His family plot is next to Thomas Johnson, the first governor of Maryland, and friend Barbara Fritchie, who allegedly waved the American flag out of her home in defiance of Stonewall Jackson’s march through the city during the Civil War..
• Francis Scott Key Hall at the University of Maryland, College Park is named in his honor, while
George Washington University also has a residence hall in Key’s honor.
• Key Lime pie was named after Francis Scott Key. (No, just kidding. I was seeing if you were paying attention!)
• Yet it IS true that he has a mall named for him! Francis Scott Key Mall is the large indoor shopping place in Frederick, right off Rt. 270. Many other shopping areas surround Key Mall, making it a shopping mecca.
• Nearby, the Frederick Keys minor league baseball team plays in their home ball park– and their team is a Baltimore Orioles affiliate.
• Francis Scott Key High School is in rural Carroll County, Maryland.
• There are three Francis Scott Key Middle Schools in the USA.
• There are several Francis Scott Key Elementary Schools in the USA.
• The US Navy named a submarine in his honor, the USS Francis Scott Key (SSBN-657).

Finally, I once resided at St. Mary’s Rockville. Next to the rectory is the old parish cemetery, and F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried there. Of the things I learned then of the author– “F. Scott”– was that he was named after his ancestor. The author’s full name: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.
MDROCfscottfitz_balsley

A Star Spangled Remembrance

It’s Monday, Sept. 15th.
I was glad that Baltimore “did it up big” this past weekend for their 200th Anniversary of the city’s defense versus British attack, remembering how the flag kept flying at Fort McHenry, and how the enemy warships and troops could not pass into taking their city in that Key Moment in the multiple-year War of 1812 (on that September 13-14, 1814 attack).

I use the phrase Key Moment with double meaning, as Francis Scott Key’s poem (later to be our national anthem) described the Event. I will put two verses of his poem into this blog.

Much was celebrated of Defenders Day’ BiCentennial in Baltimore over the weekend. I couldn’t join in; as I was busy working here, but I had gone up to the Inner Harbor Visitor Center and seen their display in mid-Summer, and more so, I had spent some time reading works and accounts of the War of 1812 in recent months (oddly enough, first inspired by a tourist stop in 2012 in a Canadian site connected with the War of 1812 and their own victorious view of it). In my own small contribution to the anniversary, I honored it by telling the Religious Ed. classes, my St. Pius X School classes, and another gathering of Knights of Columbus about some of the faith aspects of this American history moment and of Francis Scott Key’s story. I pondered aloud with the K of C of how Upper-Marlboro born Archbishop John Carroll and many others must have been praying from atop Baltimore’s city hill, as they heard the battle raging and saw the night sky lit up in spurts. Bishop Carroll then lived beside where the Latrobe-designed (1806) Assumption Cathedral was under construction (at 408 North Charles St. today–about a mile from the harbor). Surely Carroll knew, that if the British re-took America under their control, that the Catholic Church here and its primary see at Baltimore would be put down and persecuted by the English authority, as they had done at home in England to Catholics in post-Reformation. Several French-born priests were serving under Carroll, and they knew of how crucial American Independence (from England) was to the Catholic Church’s growth in America. Georgetown College and Mt. St. Mary’s Catholic Colleges had started locally. St. Mary’s Seminary and Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary were in their beginning times, and local priest vocations were being fostered in Maryland/D.C. The first bishop consecrated in America had been celebrated already (Port Tobacco’s Leonard Neale); he was among the many serious prayer petitioners in this 1814 moment. Mother Elizabeth Seton would have been praying from Emmittsburg, Md. too, with her brand new religious order of sisters. Much was on the line for The Church as America clung to her new nation status.

God would have been witness to all of this of his Catholic faithful here. So, when the Flag prevailed at Fort McHenry, and the defeated British fleet turned and left the Chesapeake, there were many prayers of thanks given by the Catholic faithful to The Lord: “God, in Your mercy, You have spared us from the foe, who would have fought against the Faith of Your servants. They have turned away, and we celebrate our freedom to practice our Catholicism. Be praised and adored, O God!”

There are over 250 Catholic parishes in Maryland today in 2014.

STAR SPANGLED BANNER VERSES 1 AND 4
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

Vs. 4
O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

As we read above of Francis Scott Key’s prayer-poem, we note how this Defenders Day Event was an important religious one for our nation.

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Here below is another religious poem of Francis Scott Key that may be appropriate to also pray on this week and year of Anniversary.

Before the Lord we bow, the God Who reigns above,
And rules the world below, boundless in power and love.
Our thanks we bring in joy and praise, our hearts we raise
To Heaven’s high King.
The nation Thou hast blest may well Thy love declare,
From foes and fears at rest, protected by Thy care.
For this fair land, for this bright day, our thanks we pay,
Gifts of Thy hand.
May every mountain height, each vale and forest green,
Shine in Thy Word’s pure light, and its rich fruits be seen!
May every tongue be tuned to praise, and join to raise
A grateful song.
Earth, hear thy Maker’s voice, thy great Redeemer own;
Believe, obey, rejoice, and worship Him alone.
Cast down thy pride, thy sin deplore and bow before
The Crucified.
And when in power He comes, O may our native land,
From all its rending tombs, send forth a glorious band.
A countless throng, ever to sing to Heaven’s high King
Salvation’s song.
– By Francis Scott Key

Homily Holy Cross Sunday Sept. 14 2014

HOMILY HOLY CROSS SUNDAY SEPT. 14 2014

The Meaning of the Cross of Jesus Christ looms large in Maryland, and in America, and in the world.

It means salvation, help, mercy, and love to hundreds of millions of people.

A Cross or a Crucifix is a primary symbol of Christian faith inside a church. At St. Edward the Confessor church, we have a traditional Crucifix in the sanctuary, over the tabernacle, and, in honor of Franciscans helping us from the monastery, there’s a Jerusalem Cross in our west wing, and, in keeping a past crucifix of earlier parish days, we have that third Crucifix of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King placed up over the main exit of church, reminding Mass goers to spread His Gospel out to others,so that they can know the meaning of the Cross and long for the love of Jesus.

Santa Cruz del Balle de los Caidos _basilicaOutside in public view, there are some famous Crosses and Crucifixes, as here in Maryland and out among many other places in the world. The largest and most dramatic Crucifix I have ever seen worldwide was at the Holy Cross at the Valley of the Fallen (“Valle de los Caídos”) in a mountain range near Madrid Spain. It’s a national monument put up in 1959, with a 500 foot tall cross, of 200,000 tons, which was put up over a huge mountain cave cathedral and in front of a mountain abbey. I will never forget that Cross. My priest friend Fr. Conley and I saw it together, with some others. We celebrated a Mass in the huge cathedral in the rock.

The most famous Maryland Cross is the one put up at the start of Maryland, at St. Clement’s Island, in the Potomac in St. Mary’s County. It was in my last parish. I have taken some of you from this parish to there. On the first Maryland Day, Annunciation Day 1634, the cross was erected center island right where the first Mass then was prayed. At that Mass, a piece of the True Cross was present on the altar to consecrate the colony. That piece of the True Cross remains with the Jesuits here in Maryland. On this 200th Anniversary of a Baltimore victory versus invasion of the anti-Catholic British of 1814, I am glad that we still have that Catholic faith (250+ parishes of it in Maryland) that Calvert came to establish here in his Maryland colony. The two Calvert red crosses on the Maryland flag have remained in that founder’s memory.

Back to famous local crosses and crucifixes, did you know that St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore has the state’s largest illuminated cross — a seven-story structure with 792 LED lights and made of 5,440 pounds of aluminum— seen prominently over Southwest Baltimore? It is aside a 190,000-square-foot patient tower, in their expanded section from 2010.

Some Maryland parishes, shrines or cemeteries have large outdoor crucifixes or crosses. A parish about 40 minutes from here has a nice, large outdoor cross there. Our Lady’s/Mt. St. Mary’s Grotto at Emmitsburg also has a large outdoor Calvary set for quiet meditation and prayer. Peace Cross at Bladensburg is a 40 foot marker and war memorial for the fallen. Many see it each week on a drive on Rt. 450 through that area.

A Christian church down Rt. 301 from us has three wooden crosses on its lawn, for all drivers going by to see. It was part of an effort by an American named Reverend Coffindaffer to put up over 1,800 of these Calvary sets in 29 states. (He finished in 1993 with that number.) That church down Rt. 301 was one participant.

Down at one of the oldest Catholic places in the USA, St. Augustine’s Florida is celebrating 449 years of Catholic presence, and it has a large, free-standing Cross that is a very tall at Prince of Peace Church and Our Lady of Le Leche Shrine, so I was told. In another old Catholic area, of Bardstown Kentucky (among the first four dioceses in America,) there is a 60 foot high steel cross structure, looking like a ship’s mast, by one of its cemeteries, that always draws a look from people. Going up into New England, there is a large outdoor Stations of the Cross at the Divine Mercy Center in Sturbridge, Massachusetts that is impressive. Then, going towards our mid-northern section of our nation to Indian River, Michigan, one can find the famous “Cross in the Woods,” a 55-foot high Cross made from one redwood tree, and a large bronze corpus of Christ on it. Over in Yankton, South Dakota, there is a House of Mary Shrine with three 50 foot crosses for meditation of Calvary’s real history and meaning. Further across America is the “Christ of the Ozarks”, a 67-foot Cross at Eureka Springs, put there long ago for religious devotions in the area, such as their Passion Plays. To show how tall that is, you could compare it to the Statue of Liberty which is 2 feet shorter.

From coast to coast, these monuments to Christ at Calvary witness to our deep Christian faith here.

Two places in America have the tallest crosses in America. In Groom Texas, a 190 foot (or 13 story!) Cross was put up in some desert area along with the Stations and a Last Supper scene. It’s worth a peek at the web site, of www.crossministries.net And, if that seemed to be the highest cross in the USA, it is bettered in Effingham, Illinois. Their town has a memorial 198 foot Cross, weighing 180 tons, called the “Cross at the Crossroads” where highways 57 and 70 meet. Hmmm….
2014-03-27 07_32_23Ventura Cross

Perhaps the prettiest cross in America is besides the Pacific Ocean at Ventura, where a sunset behind it makes for a great evening prayer and pondering of the Cross of Jesus. Out there they just call it “The Cross.” It is put there in memory of the Franciscan priest Serra and others who brought the Catholic faith to the beautiful Pacific shores of California. And Christ Jesus can put the sunset on our sins and remember them no more, if the sinner but gives their sins to Him in full repentance of them and a turning away from sin with an amended life in His Grace and Pardon. That’s what the sunset at “The Cross” at Ventura is meant to inspire.

The Cross of Jesus has meant something for 500 years to Christians in this nation. Today, Sept. 14th, happens to be the Catholic Feast of the Holy Cross. The Cross of Jesus recounts how God’s Son came among us, to die, and He went to a Cross willingly to become the act of salvation for poor sinners (as we all are), and His death became a burial place for our own sins, that we might turn to a new life in Him by faith, and to serve Him in that saving love which He poured out to the world from that Cross.

Today’s Holy Cross Feast Scripture readings (Philippians 2, John 3) go to the core of our belief. Do these verses move you in your soul today? “(Jesus–even while as God in humanity) emptied Himself, taking the way of a bond-servant…He (so) humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” That’s from Philippians 2. From John 3: “God did not come to condemn the world but that through (His Son) we might be saved.” Does your soul celebrate that, while our infinite and perfect God could He offered out to us undeserved Mercy from His Son?

We understand, by Jesus’ explanation, that THIS (HIS OFFERING ON THE CROSS) was THE act of GOD to save humanity from sin and death, and it was THE Gift to be received by any who would sincerely accept the offer. Jesus says in today’s gospel (to Nicodemus’ question of how to get to heaven): “No one has gone up (or been up in heaven) except The One Who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man…” (He was referring to Himself there, and then He makes the connection of what He was sent to do, saying about Moses—) Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (Jesus was speaking of the Cross here, and the Gift of Salvation to come from it, continuing:) “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life… that the world might be saved through him.”

Those are among the dearest words ever spoken, these testimonies of St. Paul in Philippians 2, and of St. John in His Gospel, chapter 3. They should always stir our hearts and minds and wills, as with related Scriptures on Jesus and The Cross, such as the one verse of Jesus in Luke 23:34 that sums it up: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The response of the Father Almighty to this act and plea of the Perfect Man, Jesus, Who also was God’s Son, was explained in our first reading’s conclusion today: “Because of this (Calvary), God greatly exalted him. That every knee should bow, at His Name, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of the Father.”

Let’s be clear: While nice Crosses and Crucifixes can be materially put up (as in that Groom Texas place), nothing quite compares like to the witness of real Christians being like Jesus, that with Sacrificial Love and the Gospel of Mercy and lives served in truth. That’s the Cross people especially need to see. The world needs the testimony in us and from us that Jesus is the Lord and Savior. The message is that the Sacrifice on that Cross does set us free. Only His Cross does bring humanity their freedom. Period.

So we can give Cross testimonials in our flesh and blood and soul, as we bear Jesus to the world. Jesus can use the authentic Christian to practice their embrance of Calvary daily. Jesus said: “Take up thy cross daily.” Jesus intended to save the world through us, through our witness, of even The Cross in our lives. We poor sinners who have received His Mercy have a message of great joy of forgiveness and freedom and hope.

Fellow Christian–Every day and every good thing in our lives will be linked to our transformed lives from the Cross, or they shall be lost as temporal, passing things of our existence. All has value with the Cross; nothing has value that is not of The Cross of Jesus. Agreement? Amen?!?

Some non-believers in America today are insisting of removing the Cross and Crucifix figures from all public view. When the Twin Towers fell 13 years ago in Manhattan, two steel beams came together that formed a cross. The atheists and seculars complained about it, yet many of the mourners who saw it were comforted by the symbol or took some meaning from it: As in “Father, forgive them, our enemy who did this… and by these cross beams we pray for the hatred of the world to be turned somehow to love. Also, forgive us our sins….” OR “Lord Jesus, You came into the world, and you were crucified by the world, and it shows how suffering is so sadly a part of the human experience, while we remain broken apart by sin, but if You entered Suffering, then, Lord Jesus, be in this suffering of mine, that is so deep.”

Presently, many lawsuits and legal actions are going on across America to remove all crosses and crucifixes from outdoor, public view. Peace Cross in Bladensburg has been one such opposed structure by anti-Christians.

Yet, the great symbols of the Cross remind us that the lived experience of Christ Crucified and Risen is our challenge as Catholics. Can we live the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ to the world? Can the Dying/Rising/Jesus’- Coming Again Mystery of Faith (which we celebrate in every Mass) get into us deeply and richly to witness such Faith to the world?

In my last example of public crosses, there is a lesson I’d like to finish with. Inscribed in the “Christ of the Andes,” one of the world’s most known visible, material crosses of the world, at a spot between the nations of Argentina and Chile, and in a place well known to our Pope Francis, there is an inscription there at “Cristo Redentor de los Andes” and it should be our own inscription: “Crux Lux Mundi.” The Cross Lights the World. If Christians can live by this inscription, then they would lead by example the way out of darkness and The Way (by Christ Jesus) into God’s Light. The world needs that.

Amen.

HOMILY OVER.

APPLICATION: Is that your testimony?

If you are practicing faith in Jesus, then why not tell a story of it to your pastor or deacon? We would like to share anonymous stories of faith being lived out in our parish and community and in our area and jobs and schools.

We will preach the next 2 1/2 months off the first reading, from the Old Testament prophets and sages, who called God’s people Israel to a living, seen, doing faith and not only of words or good intent, but of real choices and holy consequences that bring the Light of God in.

Tell us your stories if you can. We would like to have some inspired examples, preferably used from our own parish if they are recounted to us.
Amen.

Footnotes:
Crucifix or Cross? For Catholics, often the corpus is present, emphasizing that the Person of the Cross, not the wood, saves… Emphasizing that The Body of this Person Jesus IS the Sacrifice…. And, remembering that the Lamb of God, the Eternal Sacrifice Who is Jesus, is seen in Heaven–just check out the Book of Revelation for that. Indeed, here is the mystery: Jesus gives both a past sacrifice at Calvary 2 millennia ago, AND gives a present experience of that saving sacrifice for us. It is the meaning of the Mass and of Jesus’ Last Supper. He said “this is My Body” (so break the bread together in Memory of Me). He said: “This is My Blood “the blood of the new and eternal covenant (as we quote and pray His words at Mass), and then we lift up the Cup at the altar, we obey our Lord as He asked: Do this in memory of Me. And, as Jesus said in today’s gospel passage, the Son of Man shall be lifted up, meaning on the Cross, and in an extended way, lifted up as the Saving Sacrifice Who Blood is in the Cup on our altars.
Though Jesus lived in time, He is also Timeless and Eternal. Jesus is The Eternal Sacrifice of God’s response, in His Son, to our pleading. It is important that Jesus is remembered bodily with the Cross.
Yet, we need not get too bent out of shape by the symbols of crosses (replacing crucifixes). Crosses also have great meaning. The empty Cross does refer to the Resurrection of Our Lord, the victory extended in the Savior, celebrated in the Heavens, and that the Christ put on the Cross as King of the Jews did publicly and humanly die there at Calvary, but only to rise up from the dead, fulfilling the Messianic Promise, that He would conquer sin and death. As Paul wrote gleefully in Corinthians, “O Death, where is your victory?” (Meaning, death lost!) The Cross stands for: We win in Him.

Keeping “good busy”

Some things on the Tues-Sat schedule lately for me (ofvwhich I would dub as good busy):
Teach @ St. Pius X school… SPX School Yr. Opening Mass… Office time …Appts…. Rel Ed. Classes (3 sessions)…Priest’s Deanery Meeting… Choir rehearsal visit…Office Time… Massed (3)at senior homes… Home visit…Dinner visit…Weekday/weeknight Masses…Confirmation retreat… Bowie Pastors meeting… 2 Young Adult Baptisms and Adult Confirmation… Adult supervision at youth event… Homily work… Bible study… Retreat talk prep… Marriage/wedding prep… Prayer …Homecleaning and clothes-washing… Spiritual reading on a saint

Quite a lot of nice time spent.
Now comes the Lord’s Day.

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Watchmen in the War of 1812

In BiCentennial Memory of Thomas Archer, Dr. William Beanes, Dolly Madison, John Skinner and Francis Scott Key— Watchmen in 1814.
IMG_20140823_115651_910There! There! In the rapidly clearing dawn sky, over the fort! Look!
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

We can’t diminish the Catholic faith of Francis Scott Key either (though few historians ever mention it). Key was a strong Catholic. We can imagine that he prayed all the two days, even while he wrote words during his witness of the famed fort-‘fore-the-port battle, watching an attack on our country that might have crushed our early nation. Key prayed through all the battle for deliverance for America.. He probably had Beanes and Skinner joined in with him. As it says today in Matthew 18, “if two or three of you gathered and agree in My Name, and pray, there I am in your midst of you, looking to grant your prayers.” He had his prayers answered pretty dramatically. You can compare him to the hopeful watchman prophet and intercessor Ezekiel.n

The other Watchman in our story of America’s battle for survival 200 years ago in 1814, it is of a woman. It is Dolly Madison.

The first plan of burning Washington (before the Baltimore Port attack) was to be a demoralizer to our American independence, and a payback for earlier US victories in Canada in this War of 1812. It was now 38 years after the American Colonies’ Independence and Declaration of it, when these attacks first came upon Washington. Marylanders from Upper Marlboro, maybe Archer himself or others from Marlboro, rushed up to DC to give warning of the imminent British attack. (BTW -That is also how the news of Beanes arrest and the plans to get him released had gone into motion.)
Later, fleeing persons from Bladensburg into DC also desperately told of the near approaching British attackers.

I was pondering how alarming all of these events were–and the role a “calm and controlled” Dolly Madison would have in it. She had the role of being watchman of the White House. She had to become the lead person in charge of evacuation. She was a practicing Quaker Christian and she used every ounce of her faith to handle this crisis. Her story has been told for two centuries ( although the faith aspect of it may be forgotten).

Madison provides us a model of being a watchman for Christ. How about us? We live in alarming times. Like Dolly Madison, do we show courage in helping our nation through her stormy times? How is Christ wanting to use His Church right now? Let us ask that. Also, are we willing to get moving and act decisively, like, I think that Dolly seriously did, on that attack Washington day back on Aug. 24th, 1814? And, in comparing our need to cry the gospel to people, can we get the word out to unrepentant sinners that they need to prepare for the Coming of the Lord, by making peace with Him? By joining as one with Him ad His Body?

Or, We can be like Archer or those Upper Marlboro folks who made haste to DC ( and Annapolis and Baltimire) in their acting as watchmen to help save America?

Dolly Madison acted as a valiant watchman. Even as the sacking of Washington was coming, where and when the British burned the Capitol, Navy Yard, Offices of the Treasury Department, as well as the White House– it is recorded how Dolly was there and looking out and after all of the nation’s best interests, and for her husband, the President. She helped spare vital items and documents out of the White House, in haste, even leaving a dinner for forty on the table, and urging quick evacuation. She got out of harms way and had a plan of escape. She had the Gilbert Stuart canvas painting of George Washington rolled up and taken to safe hiding, realizing how symbolic it was to our nation’ s morale. Even with the battle closing in on her, she held courage. It is of no doubt that Dolly also prayed. Probably for a miracle to save Washington.
One interesting freakish turn of weather came that August week two centuries ago that helped disuade the British from staying around. From dismal temperatures in the 95 degree range, without a breeze, it suddenly turned to some sudden tornados and violent storms that touched down in DC! Hardly ever has their been such wild weather ever in our area! But it occured right at that time right after the burning of Washington. The Brits were put back on their heels by the weather, and they wanted to get out of Washington. I am saying that these storms could have been the answer to a praying Madison.

Yet the major goal of the Brits was to take Baltimore. They proceeded away from DC back to their ships and sailed up the Chesapeake.

It is amazing that John Skinner and Francis Scott Key headed towards the Brits for the cause of Dr. Beanes and his release. Skinner and Key exhibited what was proclaimed in Mass today in Romans 13 of “owing love to your neighbor in Christ.” Imagine your being Dr. Beanes and being so delivered. He was awed by the love and courage of Skinner and Key. Beanes lived out Hus days in freedom as a resident of Upper Marlboro.

There is much more that is said of these persons of two centuries ago, but for our purposes, we call them watchmen of their times. They lend us an example today of how we are to act. We are still defenders of a nation under God, with liberty and justice for all in God’s design, and with a Church that needs to defend herself and to take up a loving offensive to the world and its fallen condition. Sometimes as a prophetic church, like Ezekiel or other prophetic voices in the Word, we must say:
“Save yourselves from this perverted and wicked and untoward generation. (
Matt.17:17 Acts 2:40) We should also urge one another in Christ to “put on the whole armor of God, for protection” and to do what is urged to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

And more immediately and locally — how are we heroically loving others by the use of our inspired faith, as like Francis Scott Key? And do we have Key’s vision for our land?

Let’s end with Francis Scott Key and more words from his famous poem:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God we trust.”
Then the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

IMG_20140905_160836_845

IMG_20140827_063338_449

Homily The “Watchman” Ezekiel

Sept 7 Homily 23rd Sunday “A” 2014 Fr. John Barry

The Scriptures today give us a minor theme of being watchful, or of watchfulness, or of our need to be a “watchman” for The Lord, as to be fellow lookouts for harm or danger that could threaten our lives of faith.
I call to your attention the first line of today’s Liturgy of the Word: You, son of man, Ezekiel, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel

Here is a point to take today. We Christians need to be watchful. We need to keep our eyes of faith open. Then, from there, we need to communicate to one another in what we notice and see by faith that is important to be noticed. God is calling us to be attentive to issues and concerns: He will gives us ways and means spiritually—

To watch out.

And then to respond to what God shows us to do or say in vigilance and obedient service to Him.

It Defenders Day this week in Maryland, and we just remembered locally the 200th anniversary of when British marched through Md. and burned Washington in August 1814. Later this week of September, the bombardment upon Ft. McHenry in Baltimore in remembered for its bicentennial. After this homily, I would like to refer you to the blog entry Watchmen of Freedom: 1814, which will follow the homily blog entry. Please read it. It is meant to be an afterglow for this homily. In the Defender’s Day memorial (blog) I will mention the names and brief stories of three watchmen for America’s survival back then.

For this homily on watchfulness, I can borrow from easy and recent examples right around me. I found an example of watchfulness at the beach and another example at the airport.

The first example I saw was of lifeguards at a public ocean beach. They were especially looking out in the water for anyone who might not be safe versus the swift undercurrents going on. Not all of the ocean swimmers were aware or vigilant of its dangers a week ago. Yet the lifeguards were. They were working together to keep safe all the beach-comers under their watch. If you might have been a swimmer there, then they had you covered. I also noticed lots of parents of little children being quite watchful of their sons and daughters.

We can be “watchers” like them–even in spiritual ways. I thought of today’s epistle reading from the end of the letter to the Romans (chapter 13); it was connected to this theme of watchfulness, saying for us to look out for sins in the community—the coveting, stealing, forms of killing and forcing to get what one wants, and the committing of infidelities of life, as in adultery. Romans 13 sounds like it is talking about a spiritual undertow of darkness. I ask: Do we have watchman screaming alerts or jumping in to rescue others from this danger to the soul? Yes we do. But the Lord needs more voices and actions from His watchmen. People are getting caught up in those four mentioned sins (and plenty more). And God needs some Ezekiel-type people to sound the alert.

Another example of watchfulness (or being a watchman) was at the airport. The airport security personnel had their obvious watch at the gates, but also had many other persons working behind the scenes, looking into many cameras and devices to detect any suspicious person or item. From the moment of entering the airport, each person moving about is being watched. It is an essential service at any major airport these days. It is a job of scrutiny and detail. But like our Gospel today shows, the Church also has her scrutiny. Jesus says that the details and situations of sins must also be exposed and their threat undone. In Matthew 18 Jesus tell that the apostles and priests have been given His authority to loosen sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Also, on the regular lay members level, Jesus spoke on the power of agreement ( where two or three gather as one in His Name), Jesus says He is in the midst of them there. And that Gospel context is about helping people to be one in God’s truth. That kind of ministry of reconciliation is to be shared freely in all the membership of the Church.

So I take the watchfulness example at the airport and apply it to us to keep watchful for the Enemy and to expose sin and to break through divisions and separations due to sin. We can’t just ignore sin in the Church, but deal straight on with it. We can’t ignore the cries of the world, but deal with them. It is one of the reasons why we have added three Hail Marys to our prep for Mass this month.

So, by these two common examples, I think you understand the presence of the “watchman” in society, and their value. And you can make the spiritual connection with them as how the Church is so needed as the people who are being watchful, as vigilant servants to God.

Let us segue to God and His Church watchmen…

God has His watchman. God uses various kinds of watchers in The Church. Some watchmen are bishops or they may be spiritual people of prophetic gifts that they use to help the Body of Christ. Some other watchmen are believers with keen eyes that He has placed to care for family, for friends, or for an effort/ministry of the Church. We have some outreaches where the parish sends money or people to a need that was recognized in spiritual watchfulness.

In parishes we also have watchmen who serve as ushers and as parish council or finance council members, as we also have staff persons looking over parish ministries. In parishes, we have ministry to one another. You have made friendships and ties in the parish and have formed some people connections where people look after you and you look after others, or you are given spiritual insight to notice things, whereupon God inspires you to support other people here in the parish, build them up, and even sometimes to admonish them.

Psalm 95 in today’s Psalmody says: “Let us come into His Presence with thanksgiving. Let us bow down in worship.” So, as acting as a watchman, if you happen to notice someone you know that is missing from the pew for several weeks, then you might want to call that person up and see what’s going on with them. They may need attention from you, the vigilant Church member. They may need your prayer. They may need you personally to come pray with them. As the Gospel of Matthew 18 demonstrates, Jesus wanted people gathered in prayer together, in agreement, even starting with at least “two or three gathered in His Name”, and the Lord says that in these situations “He Is Present In Their Midst There.” Beautiful.

Now I would encourage you to wonder some more on this watchman theme. We are to all be a little like Ezekiel, the Lord’s watchman. What is your image of a watchman? To some persons idea, they might think of them as one who would carry lanterns, flashlights, floodlights, binoculars, whistles or alarms. Perhaps first aid kits, too. Some watchman might carry weapons in readiness for some instances of danger.

Try to apply those ideas, too, to what a Christian would carry as a watchman.

The Prophet Ezekiel is many of these models. He is exhorter, a living example, a Look Out, a deliverer of warning, a penetrating Light of truth, and much more. Read of his story again sometime. He is appointed Watchman for Israel. God says, ”son of man, look, and speak to My people.” And Ezekiel looks at life in Israel, and then He turns and prays to the Lord and He ‘hears’ that God is dismayed over how the people have minimized and downplayed and even denied the effect of their serious sins. This prompts Ezekiel to speak prophetically, and, as a faith watchman on alert, to ask the nation a question: It’s Ezekiel 33:10. “House of Israel, our transgressions and sins are upon us, and do you not see their effect? We waste away because of them, so how we then live?”

Catholics can borrow a lot from the example of Ezekiel, as we might say to ourselves and to America: “How can we let ourselves get wasted on sin? Can we not find the Lord and delight in Him?”

[For the next part of the homily, which I call the afterglow, go to the next blog. it will render an account of three people from Maryland and DC’s history who acted as watchmen in the War of 1812.]
PART TWO WATCHMEN IN THE WAR OF 1812

In this latter part of the homily, I take you back to the seventeenth-century, and to what they witnessed in Maryland history, which involved a few watchmen whose names were Thomas Archer, Dolly Madison, and Francis Scott Key.

This week we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Ft. McHenry’s defense, and for the past half-month we have remembered the invasion that came through our Maryland colony just south of us via Upper Marlboro, and onto Washington for its burning.

A first accidental watchman in those events back then, you might say, was the man Thomas Archer in Upper Marlboro, 200 years ago in August, when British troops came storming through the area of the town. Thomas’ father had been the partner to the doctor in town, Dr. Beanes. Archer probably saw quite suddenly the presence of British soldiers in the Marlborough woods and roadways. He may have had to hide for awhile until their passing. After the many troops had seemingly gone past, he went into town to see Dr. Beanes. Beanes was of great medical renown and a real Colonial patriot, even married to the niece of the famous John Hanson (the president of our nation’s first congress—and yes, the one John Hanson highway is named for). As Archer went into town, and this report is not of factual news, Archer was probably an eyewitness to one of Maryland’s most famous arrests in history, that of Dr. Beanes. As Archer had come into town to see Beanes, they met and had figured out that these soldiers had come in from the Chesapeake Bay, off of a fleet of ships that entered there in August of 1814, and that these soldiers had off-boarded from water voyage at Benedict, Maryland, and now were in march through the Marlborough area in route to attack Washington, D.C. Dr. Beanes showed Archer a surprise. Beanes had actually caught a few straggler British soldiers and thrown them in jail. After all, these not-in-line soldiers had gone into their town to loot goods or liquor, or were there to reek some havoc. So, the doctor had some men overcome the soldiers and put them into a jail. But one had escaped and run off to catch up with the marching army. So, Beanes was explaining all this, and suddenly, in alarm, a force of the British Army had come back, led by the escapee, to release the prisoners. Archer fled into hiding, but just then the Army came barging into Beanes Upper Marlboro house to arrest him and now make him their prisoner. It was the third week of August 1814. The British General Ross then made a temporary headquarters there on the Marlboro property.

All this would later have significance, because it would be the release of Dr. Beanes that involved the negotiations of our nation’s government rep John Skinner (US prisoner-of-war exchange agent) and one Georgetown lawyer named Francis Scott Key, who came down to the British for a deal to be made. Skinner and Key took on to Skinner’s flag of truce vessels, a Chesapeake Bay cartel (the “Minden”) and set out to locate the British fleet in the Chesapeake Bay (prior of the Ft. McHenry attack). Skinner and Key came across the British flagship of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. They made the convincing appeal for Beane’s release. They had foresight to collect letters from wounded British soldiers left behind after the Battle of Bladensburg. In those letters it told of how well they had been treated by the Americans, about what excellent medical treatment they were receiving by the Americans. British General Ross then had a change of heart to released Beanes. Skinner and Key with Beanes were allowed to go back to their ship, however were not allowed to go back to Baltimore. They were held off shore from Fort McHenry until the outcome of the Battle of Baltimore. Thus, they became witness to the bombardment.

Key had also been a well-know poet, his works even known by one of the British Naval officers overseeing the attack. Without surprise, Key took to pen all of what he watched. He saw America be saved that day. The words of the Star Spangled Banner are four verses, not one. We sing the first one for our national anthem today. But imagine Francis Scott Key penning even just a few of the words, and what power they must have felt in him:

There! There! In the rapidly clearing dawn sky, over the fort! Look!
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

We can’t diminish the Catholic faith of Francis Scott Key either (though few historians ever mention it). Key was a strong Catholic. We can imagine that he prayed more than wrote words during his witness of the famed fort by the port battle, watching an attack on our country that might have crushed our early nation. Key prayed through all the battle. He probably had Beanes and Skinner joined in with him. As it says today in Matthew 18, “if two or three of you gathered and agree in My Name, and pray, there I am in your midst of you, looking to grant your prayers.” He had his prayers answered pretty dramatically.

The other Watchman in our story of America’s battle for survival 200 years ago in 1814, it is of a woman. It is Dolly Madison.

The first plan of burning Washington (before the Baltimore Port attack) was to be a demoralizer to our American independence, and a payback for earlier US victories in Canada in this War of 1812. It was now 38 years after the American Colonies’ Independence and Declaration of it, when these attacks first came upon Washington. Marylanders from Upper Marlboro, maybe Archer himself, rushed up to DC to give warning of the imminent British attack. (That is also how the news of Beanes arrest and the plans to get him released had gone into motion.)
Later, fleeing persons from Bladensburg also told of the oncoming British attackers.

I was pondering how alarming all of these events were–and the role a “calm and controlled” Dolly Madison would have in it. And, how about us? We live in alarming times. Like Dolly Madison, do we show courage in helping our nation through her stormy times? Also, are we willing to get moving and act decisively, like, I think that Dolly seriously did, on that attack Washington day back on Aug. 24th, 1814?. And, in comparing our need to cry the gospel to people, can we get the word out to unrepentant sinners that they need to prepare for the Coming of the Lord, by making peace with Him? We can be like those Upper Marlboro folks who made haste in their acting as watchmen to help save America?

Dolly Madison acted as a valiant watchman. Even as the sacking of Washington was coming, where and when the British burned the Capitol, Navy Yard, Offices of the Treasury Department, as well as the White House– it is recorded how Dolly was there and looking out and after all of the nation’s best interests, and for her husband, the President. It is well known that she was left as watchman for the White House on that night Washington was attacked, and she helped spare vital items and documents out of the White House, in haste, even leaving a dinner for forty on the table, and urging quick evacuation. She got out of harms way and had a plan of escape. The rolled up Gilbert Stuart canvas painting of George
Washington was taken to safe hiding. Even with the battle closing in on her, she held courage.

Christians can borrow from her good example. Dolly was a Christian woman, of Quaker background, and her husband James, an Episcopalian. No doubt that Dolly also prayed. Probably for a miracle to save Washington.

Perhaps there were two answers to her desperate prayers that August night: One was that the British did retreat from Washington with the wrong expectation of a counter-attack from the colonist Americans. This defensive maneuver was not necessary. The Second answer to prayer came in how the turn of weather that August night two centuries ago disarmed the British. From dismay temperatures in the 100 degree range, without a breeze, to some sudden tornados and violent storms touching down in DC, hardly ever has their been such wild weather ever in our area. But there was that time right after the burning of Washington. The Brits were put back on their heels by the weather, and they wanted to get out of Washington. I would say that these storms could have been the answer to a praying Madison.
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There is much more that is said of these persons of two centuries ago, but for our purposes, we call them watchmen of their times. They lend us an example today of how we are to act. We are still defenders of a nation under God, with liberty and justice for all in God’s design, and with a Church that needs to defend herself and to take up a loving offensive to the world and its fallen condition. Sometimes as a prophetic church, like Ezekiel or other prophetic voices in the Word, we must say:
“Save yourselves from this perverted and wicked and untoward generation. (Matt.17:17 Acts 2:40) We should also urge one another in Christ to “put on the whole armor of God, for protection” and to do what is urged to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Let’s end with Francis Scott Key and more words from his famous poem:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God we trust.”
Then the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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