I was glad that I got to leave work earlier today than I normally do. Being able to leave work early allowed me to go to Mass. While my family usually goes to Holy Family in Artesia on Sundays, I often go to St. Peter Chanel for daily Mass. St. Peter Chanel is one of my favorite parishes because there is a strong and genuine faith community there, not that there is none in Holy Family, don’t get me wrong. The community of priests that run the parish belong to the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, and they do a spectacular job of establishing the atmosphere in the parish. One of the priests there stands out to me as well as to most people there: Fr. Ed Broom. He has a flare of preaching. I’d like to talk about his preaching in this post, specifically his homily from today.
Today’s gospel reading comes from Matthew. The reading is a part of Jesus’ lengthy Sermon on the Mount, where He talks about how we – Christian faithful – are to demonstrate our piety. I don’t usually remember homilies – well, daily Mass homilies specifically. Yet, the reason that Fr. Ed is a special priest is because he preaches the gospels compellingly. It is the same reason, perhaps, why I remember this particular homily – word by word, concept by concept. And here it is:
The focus of the homily is on three directions: “Up”, “In”, and “Out”. Fr. Ed lays out practical ways we can live our Christian life in each of those directions. The gospel reading for today is the designated reading every Ash Wednesday, a liturgical time when we are called to devote our time and energy to the three most fundamental Christian practices: praying, fasting, and alms-giving. “Up” refers to praying, “In” refers to fasting, and “Out” refers to alms-giving. Here are the practical ways, Fr. Ed highlighted, that we are to fulfill these practices with devotion:
- “Up” – prayer: prayer is the common spiritual practice that is not only evident in Christianity but in other religions as well. A form of prayer we can exercise is the “Daily Examen”. The “Daily Examen” is a Jesuit prayer. The prayer pretty much means what it sounds: that which one performs an honest self-examination of the events – internal and external – that took place during the day. It is quite a challenging prayer because it only works for those who have the humility to admit one’s sins that are manifested internally as well as externally. Not everyone has the grace of humility. Asking for the grace of humility is even a hard task in the first place because it requires one to spiritually and mentally bend one’s will in line with the divine transforming will of God. Fr. Ed loves to prescribe challenging ways to live out one’s spiritual life because of the direct proportionality between the degree of difficulty and the value of heavenly merit.
- “In” – fasting: fasting is the spiritual exercise that strictly has an element of repentance. Depriving one’s self of human goods empties out the inner space in us to give room for divine goods-namely, graces. While fasting for meals is the most common form among Christian faithful, Fr. Ed suggest another form, which the fasting of the mouth. Our mouth can be a source of sin for us; we may not commit sinful actions but we may be unconsciously throwing out foul words against others, especially behind their backs. Gossiping is one example. Gossiping is a sin because it damages our relationship with our neighbor. Fasting one’s mouth can render our souls saved; without careful use of the mouth we could be in trouble. Epictetus said that we are given two ears and one mouth so we can use our ears twice as much as our mouth. Putting it in another perspective, a way we can practice our Christian faith is to listen more than talking, refraining our mouths with words by filling in our ears with the words of others. Not only can we fill our ears with the words of others, but actively hear out the cries of others’ which leads to the last direction.
- “Out” – alms-giving: the whole idea of fasting is to empty ourselves out, emptying ourselves out of our selfish tendencies, so we can let Christ live in us. One of the redeeming qualities of our Lord is to give. The greatest act of charity in the history of the world is done by Christ who totally gave Himself out by dying on the Cross. We, too, can follow this model of charity through alms-giving. Alms-giving does not strictly entail giving food, drink, money, and shelter. It also entails companionship, time, and love. Yes, love is not that which you feel but that which you give. The content of love is yourself. So when you consciously decide to love someone, you are entirely giving yourself to that person. St. Thomas Aquinas puts it, “love is willing the good of the other”. Fr. Ed points out that alms-giving begins at home. The first people who deserve your charity is your husband, wife, children, parents, brothers, and sisters. If you succeed in giving charity within the confines of your home, you are more than capable of transforming the world with your charity. Charity that begins in the world can never transform a home, but a charity that begins at home can transform the world. There is one story of a man named Anthony who went to confession. He confessed to the priest that he experienced tremendous temptation of hatred against his mother. The priest asked what he would usually do when during those temptations and the man said, “I try to love her three times more”. The essence of alms-giving is to give until it hurts, and when it hurts give even more.
Essentially, the practices of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving aim toward one common goal and that is to die to oneself. We die in ourselves when we pray, expressing the extreme poverty of our soul. A person who experiences severe poverty has no other way but a way to death. By dying in ourselves, God starts invading us, and that is when redemption begins. We fast to empty ourselves out, so God can fill in our empty spaces with His redeeming work. We do alms-giving so we can give ourselves away to transform others. There are only three features right down the core of Christianity if you strip it of its historical, ecclesiastical, dogmatic, and administrative layers: selflessness, love, and redemption.
Holiness is experiencing redemption through selfless love. Thus the two greatest commandments are justified: love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and love your neighbor just as you love yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).