Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sermon Notes: Faith of Mary, Doubt of Zachariah

Reflection for Thursday, 3rd Week of Advent
6:30 am St. Vincent de Paul
December 19, 2013
·        Two Annunciations: Today we hear in the Gospel the Angel Gabriel announce the conception of John the Baptist. Traditionally this passage is seen in parallel with another such announcement, the announcement of that same angel to Mary about the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Thus they are two “annunciations” foretelling the births of John the Baptist and Jesus.

·        Focused Comparison: And while much has been and could be said detailing this comparison, their similarity and ultimate difference hinges on one line: the response of Zachariah and Mary to the Angel’s announcement.  

o   Zachariah: How shall I know this? 
For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (1:18)
o   Mary:How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (1:34)

·        Doubt of Zachariah, voice of our Culture: Notice the difference, for it is subtle yet profound. Zachariah’s response demands a sign of proof that he may know this to be true. How shall I know this? How will you prove it to me? Zachariah give us the voice of our own empirical culture which must always see it to believe it.

·        Faith of Mary, voice of the Church: Yet Mary responds quite differently. Again, it is subtle, only a word, but it changes everything. Mary asks: “How can this be?” Differing intimate knowledge for she knows more truly by faith, she asks rather how such an announcement will come to pass. How are you going to do this? What are you going to do that this may happen? This is the voice of the Church responding in faith to the workings of God for whom all things are possible.

·        Angel’s response: The Angel’s response makes this difference all the more clear. To Zachariah, he cites his authority as Gabriel an angel of God and mutes Zachariah until the birth of John the Baptist. To Mary, he reveals how His Word will become incarnate in her by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit: the first proclamation of the Gospel!

·        Ambrose Summary: It was Mary’s part neither to refuse belief in the Angel, nor too hastily take to herself the divine message. How subdued her answer is, compared with the words of the Priest. Then said Mary to the Angel, How shall this be? She says, How shall this be? He answers, Whereby shall I know this? He refuses to believe that which he says he does not know, and seeks as it were still further authority for belief. She avows herself willing to do that which she doubts not will be done, but how, she is anxious to know. Mary had read, Behold, she shall conceive and bear a son. She believed therefore that it should be but how it was to take place she had never read, for even to so great a prophet this had not been revealed. So great a mystery was not to be divulged by the mouth of man, but of an Angel.”[1]

[1] St. Ambrose cited in Catena Aurea: Luke, lectio 11, <>

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Work and Leisure of God

“Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day”
Session 4 of 4: “Dignity of Work and Necessity of Leisure”
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Sunday 15, 2013


1.     Dignity of Work: Work as part of the Christian Vocation, ergo a means of holiness
a.     Scripture: Genesis 1-3
                                                             i.      Work is now the means by which we achieve those fruits promised to us, that fruit ultimately being eternal life with God.
                                                           ii.      If we know that we are achieving this goal by the holiness we live our lives—holiness being a manifestation of our living a life worthy of God—then work is now a condition or part of our call to live holy lives; we must sanctify our work.
b.     St. Josemaria Scriva, Furrow
                                                             i.      The Sanctification of work is part and parcel of our call to holiness as Christians:
1.     “Sanctifying one’s work is no fantastic dream, but the mission of every Christian — yours and mine.” (517)
2.     “That is one of the battles of peace we have to win: to find God in our work and, with Him and like Him, serve others.” (520)
                                                           ii.      How one sanctifies his work
1.     “I have seen many people live heroic lives for God without leaving their own place of work, and I have come to this conclusion: for a Catholic work is not just a matter of fulfilling a duty — it is to love: to excel oneself gladly in duty and in sacrifice.” (527)
2.     “Have you tried following the Apostle’s advice: “let all things be done decently and according to order”? That means, in the presence of God, with Him, through Him, and only for Him.” (512)
3.     What does it look like? “You are writing to me in the kitchen, by the stove. It is early afternoon. It is cold. By your side, your younger sister — the last one to discover the divine folly of living her Christian vocation to the full — is peeling potatoes. To all appearances — you think — her work is the same as before. And yet, what a difference there is!—It is true: before she only peeled potatoes, now, she is sanctifying herself peeling potatoes.” (498)
                                                        iii.      Obstacles or Difficulties to sanctifying one’s work
1.     Ordinary or mundane aspect of work
a.     “Jesus’ thirty-three years!...: thirty were spent in silence and obscurity; in submission and work...”(485)
b.     “Before God, no occupation is in itself great or small. Everything gains the value of the Love with which it is done.” (487)
c.      “Here is a mission for ordinary Christians which is heroic and will always be relevant to the present day: to carry out in a holy way all different kinds of occupations even those that might seem least promising.” (496)
d.     “When you started your ordinary work again, something like a groan of complaint escaped you: ‘It’s always the same!’ And I told you: ‘Yes, it’s always the same. But that ordinary job —which is the same one your fellow workers do — has to be a constant prayer for you. It has the same lovable words, but a different tune each day.’” (500)
2.     Witnessing to our coworkers
a.     “Your work has become disagreeable, especially when you see how little your colleagues love God and at the same time flee from grace and the good services you want to render them. You have to try to make up for all that they leave out. You must give yourself to God in work too, as you have done up to now, and convert it into prayer that rises to Heaven for all mankind.” (518)
b.     “You too have a professional vocation which spurs you on. Well, that spur is the hook to fish for men. Rectify your intention, then, and be sure you acquire all the professional prestige you can for the service of God and of souls. The Lord counts on this too.” (491)
2.     Necessity of Leisure: The norm of the Christian life
a.     Scripture: God lives at leisure, so should we.
                                                             i.      Ps 46:11: “Wait quietly [be at leisure], and you shall have proof that I am God”
                                                           ii.      Prov. 8:30-31: “I was at his side, a master-workman, my delight increasing with each day, as I made play before him all the while; made play in this world of dust, with the sons of Adam for my play-fellows.”
b.     Josef Pieper, Leisure: the basis for culture
                                                             i.      Etymology: ends v. means
1.     The Greek word for leisure is σχολη which through the Latin we get schola or School (Cf. 4).
2.     Work in both Greek and Latin is merely the negative form of leisure: ασχολη and neg-otium. Both literally mean “not-leisure” (Cf. 5).
3.     Aristotle affirms this relationship saying: “We are not-at-leisure in order to be-at-leisure (Cf. 4).
                                                           ii.      Three ways of considering Work and Leisure
1.     Work as ActivityàLeisure as “Non-Activity”
a.     Leisure is “an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet” (31).
2.     Work as EffortàLeisure as condition of considering things in a celebrating spirit
a.     “The inner joyfulness of the person who is celebrating belongs to the very core of what we mean by leisure…includes within itself a celebratory, approving, lingering gaze of the inner eye on the reality of creation” (33).
3.     Work as Social FunctionàLeisure as oriented towards the whole of existence.
a.     “Leisure is not justified in making the functionary as ‘trouble-free’ in operation as possible, with minimum ‘downtime,’ but rather in keeping the functionary human [or gentleman]; and this means that the human being does not disappear into the parceled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence” (35).

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sermon Notes: the Good Shepherd

Sermon Notes for Tuesday of 2nd Week in Advent
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
December 10, 2013
·        Consider that in this Gospel, the parable of the Good Shepherd, we see two kinds or groups of sheep: one in the valley having lost his way, the other(s) on the hill top safe and sound.
·        Those sheep left up on the mountain top are like the Saints who have gone before us in the ways of the Lord. Now they sit atop the mountain crying out to us, proclaiming to us in the scriptures the way to salvation: 
o   John the Baptist: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!”
o   “Herald of glad tidings; Cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! He comes with power the lord God…”
·        We are all too often that sheep wandering in the valley of the shadow of death, straying from the flock.
o   We cannot be afraid to hear the call of our own salvation! To hear proclaimed to us eternal life!
o   Do we hear: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guild is expiated.”
o   In the responsorial psalm: “The Lord our God comes with power.”
o   Do we hear the voices upon the mountain crying out to us the coming of the Lord?
·        This is the joy of Advent proclaimed to us: the coming of our Savior, Christ Jesus. Advent is simply a time to recognize our position in the valley and to hear and to rejoice at the words of salvation.

·       Our response is the motto or chant of advent is Veni, Domine, noli tardare, “Come, Lord, do not delay!”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Joy of the Gospel

Reflection For 2nd Sunday of Advent
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Austin, TX
December 7/8, 2013

          Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today on the 2nd Sunday of Advent we witness in the Gospel a confrontation. John the Baptist, surrounded by large numbers of people from all over Judea and the surrounding area of the Jordan, picks out the group of Pharisees and Sadducees come to be baptized like all the rest and decries them: “You brood of vipers!” (Matt 3:7). A warm salutation, is it not? This salutation and the following cordial dialogue fall toward the beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew. This is important because St. Matthew, as Sacred Tradition holds, wrote his gospel in order to share the good news of salvation with the Jewish people. Indeed, Tradition suggests that Matthew originally wrote the gospel in Hebrew. Thus when the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious factions of the time) show up for a debate, our interest is perked. There is something interesting going on here.

          In this episode, John the Baptist demands that they produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance, that they are sorry for their sins (Cf. Matt 3:8). Remember that John has made it clear that his baptism is one of repentance: “I am baptizing you with water for repentance,” he says (3:11). If the Pharisees and Sadducees are not repentant, John has nothing to offer them.

          Yet before the Pharisees or Sadducees can respond, John, knowing the murmurings of their hearts (as did Jesus), takes the words right out of their mouths: “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise sons of Abraham from these stones’” (3:9). What does this response mean?

          For the Jewish people, salvation consisted in being part of the family tree. Way back in Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham promising him three things: land (i.e. the promise land), descendants as numberless as the stars in the sky and sand on the shore, and God’s blessing (Cf. Genesis 17). This began a great family tree. Abraham had Isaac. Isaac had Jacob (renamed Israel) who fathered 12 sons, the future heads of the 12 tribes of the nation Israel. This new family tree God held as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people to call His own” (1Peter 2:9). If you were a part of this family tree and you followed the laws and commands added by Moses (10 commandments and such), you were saved. As such, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have made recourse to their father Abraham as proof that they need not show signs of contrition or repentance. They saw themselves as part of the family tree, and they were content with that. And John the Baptist knew this.

          Yet he also knew that God was about to renew that old covenant in a radical way, changing the way this family tree worked: “Even now,” he says, “the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:10). Yes, God was to erect a new family tree through the coming Messiah such that all nations might become part of God’s people. Thus, John says: “I tell you, therefore, that God is able to raise sons of Abraham from these stones” (3:9). The stones represent the gentiles, all other people born outside of the chosen race.

          This should cause us to rejoice, for I would dare say that most if not all of us here are not descendants of Abraham. We are gentiles grafted on to the new family tree of God, the Cross, through the blood of Christ. Indeed, in these lines from John today we hear our very salvation. To make it more clear, had not Christ through His passion, death, and resurrection erected a new family tree in the Cross, grafting us onto that new tree through His most precious blood, we would not be, and could not have been redeemed. Rejoice, for we are now those sons of Abraham; we are now offshoots of that family tree by faith given to us through a baptism of fire and the spirit (Cf. Matt. 3:11).

          John treats the Pharisees and Sadducees harshly because they are content with their own inclusion in this family tree. They are turned inwards, content to worry only about themselves and those already apart of this family. To put it bluntly, they have no concern for what truly saves, that is, faith.

          Indeed, the Pharisees and Sadducees are unaware that, as St. Paul teaches, what justified Abraham in the sight of the Lord was faith. He trusted in the Lord, believing that what was promised him would be fulfilled, and it was accredited to him as righteousness (Cf. Gal 3:6). Now through Jesus Christ all peoples are justified by faith in Him. For not by works of the law and obedience to the commandments of the old covenant are we justified, but by faith in Christ Jesus. It is here in this movement from flesh to faith[1] that a mission or an evangelization begins. It is no longer enough to be content with our own inclusion in God’s family tree. No, now we are to go out and, as Jesus will say at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19).  

          Recently the intervention given by Pope Francis during the pre-conclave conferences was published. In it Pope Francis warned against a “self-referential Church”[2]:

When the Church does not come out of herself to evangelize, she becomes self-referential and then gets sick. (cf. The deformed woman of the Gospel).”[3]

Consider how John the Baptist’s confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees might provide an image for us of Pope Francis’ insight here. The Pharisees and Sadducees understood themselves to be a part of a self-referential Church, a Church content with herself and those within her bounds. Such a Pharisaical Church consumes herself with the activities and works of piety done for the salvation of its members, not looking beyond itself or desiring to share such a reality with others. It is precisely here that things begin to rot and to die from the inside, becoming hollow and meaningless. The very joy of sharing the Gospel, the very life blood of the Church, is gone. Indeed, Jesus lays this very critique against the Pharisee and Scribes in Matthews Gospel, saying:

Woe to you…You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth.” (23:27).

This teaching of our Holy Father is clear enough, but it is not new. Soon to be Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio said pointedly that “the Church is missionary by her very nature.[4] The Church cannot, will not, is not herself unless she lives out her truest identity that of proclaiming the saving message of Jesus Christ to all peoples. We could go back further here to the Second Vatican Council.[5] But that must remain for another time and place.

What, then, does this mean for us here at the parish? How can we evaluate ourselves and challenge ourselves to live out this missionary identity of the Church here and now? How can we avoid a Pharisaical Church and become true disciples of the Lord Jesus going out to share the joy of the Gospel?

          For us personally, when we think of holiness, do we equate holiness with the number of activities at the parish we participate in? As leaders, do we equate the fruitfulness and success of our groups by their size or level of attendance? The various groups and ministries in a parish are important, even essential to the life of the Church. Please be involved and participate in them. Start new ones, and renew ones already established. Again, they are essential to the life of the Church. Yet, we must be honest with ourselves and hear the challenge of our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, and imagine holiness as the joy with which we live the Gospel. We must consider our endeavors as fruitful and successful by how deeply we have shared the joy of the Gospel with other souls? It’s all about saving souls! We cannot be afraid of saying that. We must have “zeal for souls” as Pope Benedict XVI said.[6] The missionary activity of the Church both home and abroad sharing the joy of the Gospel for the salvation of souls, this is the essence of the Church. And everything we do must be seen in this light.

          How, then, do we do this? How can each and every one of us live out this missionary zeal that Pope Francis is pumping into the Church? First and foremost we must live faithful lives of prayer and participate in the sacraments. This is the source and summit of our faith without which we will never truly live in the first place. At the font of prayer, we will receive the grace, the joy of the Gospel which we are to share. We must receive the Gospel in order to share it. Secondly, we must carry out faithfully our various states in life. Consider the witness of a good and faith filled family! We all know in this day and age what a testimony a faithful couple open to life can be! Even more, if you are single and simply live a chaste and virtuous life, what a sign you will be! Young people who are considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, what a witness you are just by being open to the voice of God! Thirdly and lastly, we must do all things with an eye to sharing the joy of the Gospel. We must anticipate that at any given moment we will be called on to share our joy. And we must take them, seize them: at meetings and at the water cooler; in locker rooms and stadium seating; in classroom discussions and hallway chitchat; in the checkout line and the traffic jam; at the mall and attending movies; in the barber’s chair and picking up dry cleaning. We must share the joy of the Gospel in the streets and byways. Let us not be robbed of the joy of the Gospel.[7] 

[1] Cf. St. John Chrysostom’s Homily 11 on the Gospel of Matthew: “Do you see how for the time he drew them off from their vain imagination about things of the body, and from their refuge in their forefathers; in order that they might rest the hope of their salvation in their own repentance and continence? Do you see how by casting out their carnal relationship, he is bringing in that which is of faith?”
[2] Cf. Cardinal Bergolio’s  intervention during the pre-conclave conferences: 
[3] Ibid
[4] Number 5: “this definitive self-revelation of God [the coming of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ] is the fundamental reason why the Church is missionary by her very nature.”
[5] The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, defines the Church as “the universal sacrament of salvation” (n. 48).
[6] Homily from Chrism Mass on April 5th, 2012: The last keyword that I should like to consider is “zeal for souls”: animarum zelus. It is an old-fashioned expression, not much used these days. In some circles, the word “soul” is virtually banned because – ostensibly – it expresses a body-soul dualism that wrongly compartmentalizes the human being. Of course the human person is a unity, destined for eternity as body and soul. And yet that cannot mean that we no longer have a soul, a constituent principle guaranteeing our unity in this life and beyond earthly death. And as priests, of course, we are concerned for the whole person, including his or her physical needs – we care for the hungry, the sick, the homeless. And yet we are concerned not only with the body, but also with the needs of the soul: with those who suffer from the violation of their rights or from destroyed love, with those unable to perceive the truth, those who suffer for lack of truth and love. We are concerned with the salvation of men and women in body and soul. And as priests of Jesus Christ we carry out our task with enthusiasm.”
[7] Cf. Evangelii Gaudium

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sermon Notes: Pray the Rosary

Reflection for 8:30 am Mass
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Feast of St. John Damascene
December 4, 2013

·        The Advent and Christmas seasons calls us in a very special way to mediate upon a great number of events in Jesus’ life. The Church really does indulge her children in this way, literally dumping out the cookie jar during these seasons.

·        Between the feast days of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family, Mary the Mother of God, the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, all centered on 8 days, 8 Sundays in a row for the feast of Christmas itself. There is a lot on our plate to take in and to digest.

·        In these seasons, the Rosary is the perfect prayer. It provides for us a wonderful summary of these events. In fact, every one of these events is contained in the mysteries of the Rosary in one way or another. So if you miss a feast or find yourself overwhelmed by the mystery, pray the Rosary and you will get back around to it, so that your may dwell longer at that particular font of mercy and grace. It is like eating Thanksgiving day leftovers.

·        The Rosary also becomes a special prayer during this time because of its Marian character. These seasons are marked by Jesus’ early years, His infancy, childhood, and the “hidden years” growing up alongside Mary and Joseph. Mary has a particular glimpse into these moments in His life and kept them ever in her mind and on her heart. She knows her Son during this time in an intimate way. Sit down with her through the Rosary and look at those photo albums with her. Ask her about those moments, how she felt, what she thought, etc…

·        Lastly, since I know many of you here probably pray the Rosary, I want to challenge you to pray with and for others. Here the Rosary, again, proves most efficacious allowing us to offer prayers for others through Mary’s intercession, and also pray with them for the same. I challenge you to use the Rosary as a chance to pray with others, to pray with those for whom you are already praying. We cannot be afraid to invite others to pray with us. This can be our mission.   

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Prayers of Thanksgiving After Mass

St. Vincent de Paul 6:30 pm Mass
November 26, 2013

Good evening. Fr. Danny has asked that I give a reflection this evening. I thank you in advance for your patience in hearing this short reflection.

I wanted to take this moment, this occasion to speak to y’all about prayer, and in particular praying in thanksgiving after having received communion. Indeed, most if not all have just received the body and blood, soul and divinity of our dearly beloved Lord Jesus Christ. And if the celebration of the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith, as so beautifully articulated in the Catechism, then this moment after its reception is the arrival point. This moment is objectively the closest encounter we can have in this life with our Lord. We touch. We eat. We receive His very body and blood. We have climbed the mountain. We have partaken of the font. Here and now in the silence of your inner most self the LORD dwells. I find it hard now to even speak and disrupt this moment of intimacy with our LORD.

Yet what are we to do? What are we to say in this moment? How are we to respond to such a gift given to us in such a humble manner? The Church has long suggested the holy and venerable practice of saying prayers of thanksgiving after mass. Many saints have taken up this practice throughout the centuries, staying after mass if even for just a little while so as to abide with Him, so as to remain in Him. They stayed behind in order that they might give thanks to God the Father for having received the gift of love, the gift of Jesus His Son, the gift of God Himself.

Scripturally, we find see Jesus giving high praise to those who return to Him in thanksgiving. When He cured 10 lepers and only one returned in humble gratitude, He asked, “were there not 10 healed; where are the other 9?” Then turning to the one who returned He said, “go, your faith has saved you” (Cf. Lk 17:11-19). Jesus desires for us to remain with Him, if even for just a few moments. He desires us to allow Him in the most intimate of moments a chance to speak to our hearts, and for us to do the same. But what do we say? How do we give thanks?

When we know not how to pray, we Catholics turn to those good old memorized or written out prayers. These can be really helpful in teaching us how to pray. Much like learning math, before we can sit down and solve problems with algebra and beyond, we must first memorize multiplication tables, and division charts. Indeed, most of elementary math is just that, memorizing. And how such memorization comes in handy when trying to concentrate on much bigger and complex problems? Prayer is much the same way. After memorizing and practicing the basics, we are able to pray in a deeper way from our hearts. Fortunately, there are many such prayers of thanksgiving after mass. Some of the more famous are written by St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ambrose, and St. Bonaventure, but there are many others. Even praying a simple “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory be” can go a long way in allowing us to enter into this act of thanksgiving. 

If we do not have these readily available for whatever reason, we can also just speak to the Lord expressing our simple yet sincere gratitude for this gift of Himself in the Eucharist. In realms of this kind of more fluid prayer, I would suggest the logic that many of our mothers instilled in us when we wrote thank you letters growing up. Say thank you, but be specific. What have you received and why are you grateful? Then, as you would in the letter, tell God how you enjoy the gift, what you plan on using it for, and how you look forward to using it. In other words, you have received the gift of God’s infinite grace and mercy, how do you plan on living that out? How do you want the Lord to help you live it out? Here we can ask the Lord to bestow upon us specific virtues, or gifts. Don’t be afraid to ask. Go big! Ask for everything and anything, your deepest and most hidden desires. God wants you to ask Him.

This logic of the thank you letter is fundamentally the basis for those written prayers of thanksgiving I mentioned earlier. In one way or another they all have the same movement: giving thanks for the gift received, and asking for specific ways to enjoy or keep the gift.

With this in mind, I encourage you to take the time after mass today to make these prayers of thanksgiving in whatever way you can. Life is busy and calls us in every direction. But if even for only 30 seconds, enough to say an “Our Father,” come back to the LORD as did that one leper and give thanks to Him for the gift of salvation He has bestowed upon you in the Eucharist. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Household Structures of Virtue and Vice

“Household Structures of Virtue and Vice”
Part 2 of 4 “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day”
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Nov. 24, 2013

Introduction: Good morning and welcome to the second of four sessions on “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day.” Now you need not worry if you were not at the first of these four sessions. They do not build upon each other. They do, however, stem from the same logic, that is, how the mundane or everyday aspects of our lives can become means of holiness. For if holiness is to be like God, then we are called to act in a divine way; we are called to live a divine life. How, then, do we live such a divine life?

We will try to answer this question by taking on our homes. The title of this session is “Household Structures of Virtue and Vice.” Or our beloved Sister Maria Fatima has dubbed this topic: “Catholic Fung Shway.” Needless to say there is more to it than that, but it will certainly include some aspect of furniture moving.

Scripture: As always we will begin by listening to God’s Word in the scriptures, for it is by receiving His Word and meditating on it that fruit is brought forth.

The Holy Spirit teaches us in the book of Proverbs this lesson about building a house: 

By wisdom is a house built, by understanding is it made firm; And by knowledge are its rooms filled with every precious and pleasing possession (24:3-4)

Here the Holy Spirit tells us that by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge is a house built, and not just any house, but the house of a just man, a righteous man, a man who knows the will of God and acts upon it. What, then, are these three aspects by which a house is built?

“Wisdom” in some commentary traditions is always interpreted to mean one’s knowledge or understanding of God; wisdom regards the ways of God. Think here of when Jesus rebuked Peter. He said: You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do (Mk 8:33). Jesus said this because Peter had just rejected the first prediction of the passion. Peter lacked the wisdom or an understanding of God’s ways of saving men. He was ignorant of God’s ways.   

“Understanding” here means something more like prudence. In fact, the Latin translation of the Greek and Hebrew is just that, prudentia. Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues. Indeed, it is the most important for it influences every other virtue. Often times it is called the queen of the virtues. Prudence in short applies right reason to action (Cf. Summa Theologica II-II q. 47 art. 4).

“Knowledge” following this same commentary tradition concerns the ways of men, that is, science. Indeed, the Latin root of science, sciencia, means knowledge. In comparison with wisdom, knowledge could be seen as knowledge of God’s creation, how the world works.

Moreover, a house is built by Wisdomaccording to God’s ways, by understanding—acting in accord with right reason—, and by knowledge—in accord with physics. The question up for discussion today becomes: how do we build our homes in this way by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In so doing we will begin to see our homes as means of holiness, as part of living a divine life?

As you will notice, we are in small groups. My hope is that after a small introduction to each one of these three aspects, we can then turn and discuss amongst each other ways of implementing them into our homes, sharing our own wisdom, understanding, and knowledge with each other. For there are many families out there that already live in such a way. We can learn from them.
By Wisdom is a house built: We said that wisdom is the knowledge of the ways of God. How can our homes be built in accord with the ways of God? While this question touches all aspects of what we will discuss today, for nothing falls outside of our relationship with God, the most clear and practical answer to this question is how our homes are conducive to prayer. The fundamental center of our lives is our relationship with God the Father through His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are sons and daughters of God. This is our core identity. There is no other identity more real or true to who we are. Therefore, prayer is an absolute. We must communicate, talk, express desire, and listen to our Father in heaven. A house built or organized according to the ways of God (who Himself prayed!) hosts a room or space for prayer. Thus, how can our homes encourage, entice, call us back to this relationship in prayer? Is there a place in our homes that is conducive to prayer? Some dedicate their night stand, praying on their knees at the foot of their bed before they sleep. Some keep small shrines to our Mother Mary with statues and flowers. Some construct small altars in memorial of a loved one who has passed. Monks all have a kneeler and crucifix in their cell (or room).

I bring this up because the reality is that most of us do not live near the Church. More, most of us do not pass by the Church on our way to and fro. Indeed, a stop at the chapel during the day is at the very least a 20-30 minute time commitment (without the actual time praying) which is hard if not impossible to spare most days. If we begin creatively making space in our homes for individual and family prayer, we can take that 20-30 minutes and just pray. 

by understanding is it made firm: “Understanding” we said refers to the virtue of prudence, that is, the application of right reason. How can our homes be made firm by organizing them according to this virtue? Part of prudence is foresight: being able to see it coming. When it comes to moral and virtuous behavior, this means avoiding occasions of sin and maintaining good influences. The phrase “the near occasion of sin” is something I think good to be mindful of. This phrase describes our proximity to sin and thus our level of temptation to act in a sinful manner. While we might be able to resist temptation in any given moment, we are bound to fall. We are not perfect. Thus, it is prudent or foresighted to remove ourselves from such situations. In our homes, this means arranging them in such a way that overbearing temptations to sin cannot be found or enter in through the various doorways and digital portals, so to speak. In other words, we can organize them in such a way that sinful behavior is not encouraged or enticed by its proximity or easy access.

More specifically, TV and computer access. Where are they located? Are they communal access, meaning cannot be watched without others being around? Or are they private access, meaning I am able to enjoy them without interruption or another set of eyes? Do we have the proper monitors in place? Proximity can simply be a click away whether it be a mouse or remote. Thinking more of family life, we all wish we spent more time together, do we not? Quality family time is hard to come by these days. Could we create an environment of talking and sharing amongst family members by making the TV less prominent? Maybe the chairs in the room could face each other and induce conversation, rather than imitate movie theaters and allow us to avoid each other. Consider how we might invite our families away from these machines by keeping computers and TV in communal, rather than private areas. It is hard enough as it is to find time to talk to our kids.

And by knowledge are its rooms filled: We said that knowledge here referred to science and understanding of the world. Hopefully it is a given that our homes were build in this way! Hopefully they are not falling down! But are they filled with it? Are they filled with learning? Study is one of the most difficult aspects of family life. Something I am sure parents all wish their children did more of. Study habits as we all know require a good environment: quiet, comfortable but not too much, uninterrupted, etc…As many of us remember from college, libraries provide the perfect place. Yet, as with the Church these are few and far between these days and the time going and coming is enough to deter any slight inclination to go. How can we fill our rooms with knowledge? How can we create good environments for our kids to study and to learn?

Consider where the kids study now: bed, kitchen bar, living room, dining room table…Why do they study there? Sure they want to watch the TV, have company around, keep food nearby, etc…But they also study there because they each have one aspect of making a good place for study: a comfortable chair, firm and large place to write, open area to lay things out and to organize. Consider combining these good aspects into one. A desk with a comfortable chair in their room could go a long way to creating a quiet comfortable conducive place of study. Could we keep more books around and in visible places? How many times do we grab the remote and turn on the TV because it is there? Could a book have the same effect? Artwork on the walls, and it need not be expensive, can help as well invite our kids to think deeper thoughts. In this way, we can fill our rooms with every precious and pleasing possession, for knowledge and learning are our truest and most beautiful possessions. We are made in the image of God by the gift of the mind, the intellect. Teaching our kids to engage their minds on a daily basis invites them to a true life of virtue and holiness filling our rooms with beauty and splendor.

In conclusion, I mention all of this as I said in the beginning so as to create a home which is conducive to living a divine life. Prayer, recreation, and study as well as the innumerable other aspects of life at home are integral parts of a life of holiness. As the Psalmist says: “unless the LORD build the house, in vain do the builders labor. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil” (Ps 127:1). We all want to build up a family, a household of virtue and holiness. The LORD must, then, be a part of this or we do so in vain. We must begin ordering our lives, even the furniture, in accord with this goal, the one true goal in life: eternal happiness with our Father in heaven.