Homily: St. Catherine of Siena and James 3:17-18

This was written for my Diaconate formation class – that is the reason for the references to that program:

Today, the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was born in Siena in 1347, into a very large family. When she was 16 years old she was motivated by a vision of St. Dominic and entered the Third Order of the Dominicans through the female branch known as the Mantellate. While living at home, she confirmed her vow of virginity made privately when she was still an adolescent and dedicated herself to prayer, penance and works of charity, especially for the benefit of the sick. Catherine was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she never had any formal education. She persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377, and was endeavoring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375, she experienced Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. She died in Rome in 1380. She was canonized in 1461, and later named Co-Patroness of the City of Rome and Patroness of Italy. In 1970, Servant of God Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church. A few years later, Saint John Paul II declared her the Co-Patroness of Europe.

In a general audience given by emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, he stated that “every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves. And we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God and by the sacraments, above all by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion.”[1]

St. Catherine is a worthy patron for our journey to the Diaconate. Just as she was a spiritual mother and guide to so many when she was alive, she continues to be so through her writings and devotions to her. She was, in every way, devoted completely to Christ. “In a vision that was ever present in Catherine’s heart and mind, Our Lady presented her to Jesus who gave her a splendid ring, saying to her: “I, your Creator and Savior, espouse you in the faith, that you will keep ever pure until you celebrate your eternal nuptials with me in Heaven” This ring was visible to her alone. In this extraordinary episode we see the vital center of Catherine’s religious sense, and of all authentic spirituality: Christocentrism. For her Christ was like the spouse with whom a relationship of intimacy, communion, and faithfulness exists; he was the best beloved whom she loved above any other good.”[2]

St. Catherine taught about the importance of setting aside earthly trappings in pursuit of Heavenly goals. As Catherine said, “the path to Heaven lies through Heaven, and all the way to Heaven is Heaven.” This same sentiment is echoed in today’s reading from James. The passage begins by describing the result of earthly, false wisdom. This wisdom leads to “jealously”, “selfish ambition”, and things that are “unspiritual” and “demonic.”[3] But the true wisdom, the wisdom from above is: “pure, peacable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, and without inconstancy or insincerity.”[4] It is truly a model for what our lived relationship with Christ and others should be. Just like Catherine, we should wear the splendid ring of Christ to be for him all that he needs us to be in this world. Throughout our entire life, we should remain mindful of the good that comes from living by the wisdom from above. We should be pure in our belief, peacable in our actions, gentle in our justice, compliant and obedient, filled with mercy and good fruits, and without partiality or deception. As Catherine told us, we must “be who God meant us to be and we will set the world on fire.”

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.

[1] Benedict. General Audience. Nov. 24, 2010.

[2] Benedict. General Audience.

[3] James 3:14-15. NAB.

[4] James 3:17. NAB.

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Homily: 5th Sunday of Lent, 2014

During the twelve years I have served as a music director for Catholic parishes, I have had the opportunity to provide music for hundreds of funerals. With each death, there are generally five stages someone who is separated from their loved one goes through. One of these stages is anger, and I believe we see that in today’s Gospel. The Gospel-writer tells us that Martha approached Jesus and confronted him about her dead brother. But I believe that she instead ran up to him, pounded her fists onto his chest, and shouted: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then, after a moment of deep and powerful weeping and emotion, she pulled herself away and quietly said: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus then reassures her by telling her that he indeed is the “resurrection and the life.”

Now, if everyone had the faith of Martha, the story could have perhaps ended here. But, for Jesus, there was much more for us to learn. We first heard of Jesus’ intention to make the death of Lazarus an opportunity to affirm the power of God when, after Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he choose to remain where he was. At first, his disciples believed this to be a reaction to his fear of the Jews that tried to stone him, but he tells them that it is so that they might believe, something they did not fully understand at the time.

We do not know why Lazarus died, but we do know that he died in the Kidron valley, a Jewish community, and therefore would have been given a burial typical of the region. This included the wrapping of the body with linen cloths and placing it in a rock-hewn grave. These practices existed mainly for practical reasons: the high temperature in the region caused the quick decay of a body, and tombs which were cut into rock were readily available. The Jews also participated in the traditional three-day mourning ritual because they believed that after death, the soul of the deceased remained near the body for three days. During this time, a person who came near the deceased was at risk of having the freed soul entering their body and inhabiting them. After the third day, the soul then departed for the afterlife, and left-behind a decaying body. This is why it is so remarkable to the Jews that Jesus was able to bring Lazarus back from death. He not only raised his body, but brought his soul back to earth. Jesus accomplished this miracle by approaching the tomb of Lazarus and shouting: “come out!” Lazarus then rises and walks forward, restored to life once again.

Jesus, too, is calling us to come out. He is calling us to come out from our sinfulness. He is calling us to come out into a life filled with prayer and works of mercy. He is calling us to come out of the tombs which trap us from the lives we want so badly to lead. And, he is calling us to come to him at the altar, to receive him in the most precious gift of his body and blood.

In our lives, we have already known many who we have deeply loved who have died. We, too, will die someday. And when we do, we can be assured that Christ will be waiting for us, and will call us, one final time, into everlasting life.