In Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, we find him today outlining the divine plan of our salvation. He divides it into 5 stages. He says that we are foreknown by God; we are predestined to be conformed to Christ by our human nature; we are called, we are justified, and we are glorified.

Now, what does all this mean? It means that God has planned to create you and me for all eternity. We have existed in the divine intellect as an idea, a loving plan. He planned for us to be not angels, not animals, not birds or fish or trees, but human beings. And theologically speaking, a human being is a man or woman who belongs to the same species as Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “firstborn” not in terms of time, but rather in terms of perfection, of dignity, of value, of leadership. We are perfect human beings to the degree that we resemble Our Divine Lord.

He called us out of nothingness into being. We were conceived; we were born; we began to live our human lives. He called us also into his Church, which is the principal means for the justification, that is, the sanctification of the human person. And then, if we allow ourselves to be sanctified, justified, made holy, made like Jesus, then we will be glorified.

But there is a danger here. God has made us in his image and likeness, which means that he made us with free will. We can choose to obey him, or to disobey him. He invites us to be like Jesus; he enables us to do so. But he does not force us. That is why in the gospel of today’s Mass, Jesus foretells that some humans will knock at the doors of heaven, and will be told from inside, “I don=t know where you come from.” They will answer “Of course you do; we knew you; you lived among us, ate with us, spoke with us. We shared many things with you.” But he will repeat, “I don=t know where you come from.” This means “You have not conformed your life to mine; you are not my kind of people. Therefore you are not welcome here.”

God forbid that those words should ever be addressed to us. Let us, on the contrary, live so as to resemble Our Lord by being obedient to his commandments. He calls us; let us follow. He sanctifies us, let us gladly submit. And one day he will glorify us in heaven. Let us live in anticipation of that reality, which is our destiny. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 28, 2014

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude (28 October 2014)

In our church calendar, today is the feast of the apostles Saints Simon and Jude; in our secular calendar, it is Statue of Liberty Day because on October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland formally took possession of the world-famous statue given by the people of France to those of the United States.

Just last month, I had the joy of seeing the statue again.  Our travel group had gone aboard the Holland-America liner “Eurodam” on the morning of September 6.  That afternoon, the ship left her berth in the Hudson River and began her cruise up to Quebec.  By happy coincidence, we sailed past the Statue of Liberty just as a huge, bright-orange sun was going down behind it, silhouetting the impressive monument at the end of a beautiful day.  The last words of the poem by Emma Lazarus about the statue came back to me: “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  It has indeed been a golden door for millions who came to our shores seeking a better life than they had previously, and the statue is an appropriate gift to the people of the United States who celebrated their centennial of freedom in 1876 from the people of France who celebrated theirs in 1889.

Now, let’s go back to Saints Simon and Jude.  There were two men by each of those names among the twelve apostles of Our Lord.  But Jesus changed the name of one of the Simons to “Peter” and we speak of the other couple as Saint Jude and the traitor Judas Iscariot. I have a special affection for Saint Simon because my Jewish great-grandfather was Simon Braun who came to this country from Germany about the year 1840, and married a Catholic lady of French background in Houma, Louisiana.  Thus he gave me my Jewish family name and my kinship to the chosen people of Israel; fortunately, his wife gave me my Catholic identity and French cultural background.

So today we can celebrate the foundation of his Church by Our Lord upon the foundation stones of the apostles; we can celebrate our national freedom and all that it brings to us, and the friendship between our country and France.  One of France’s other important gifts to us was the leadership of the Marquis of Lafayette during our revolutionary war.  Very conscious of that, the commanding officer of the American troops that arrived in Paris to help France free itself from German occupation in 1917 stood at the grave of Lafayette and said, famously, “Lafayette, we are here.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 27, 2014

Feast of Saint Abraham the Poor (27 October 2014)

In Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he speaks of the virtue of hope, and does so beautifully. We are hoping, he says, for the fulfillment of our potential which will not be in this life, but in heaven. And he compares the aches and pains associated with growing older in this world to the pain that a woman experiences in childbirth. She undergoes pain to bring forth a person for this world. We undergo pain to bring forth ourselves into eternal life. Let us be aware that there are three very important moments in salvation history. First, the life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Our Divine Lord. All of that taken together is one moment. Then we have the present moment, in which we live from day to day. We can’t live yesterday or tomorrow. We can only live NOW. We are asked to remain in union with Jesus NOW, the flowing NOW of each day. And then the third moment is the one when he will come for us to take us into eternal life with him.

In just [35] days, we will begin the holy season of Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin “advenit,” which means “he is coming!” Can you remember how exciting it was when you were a small child and you expected company? My grandmother or other relations would come to visit us, and they would bring GIFTS! In good weather, my parents would leave the front door open, with the screen door hooked, so that I could see out. I ran to the front door every time I heard a car go by, terribly impatient, waiting for our guests and the wonderful things that they would bring me. We are not children any more, but we are waiting for the arrival of a very important person who is going to bring us a tremendous gift. The person is Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the gift is union with him in heaven forever, if he finds us faithful to him when he comes. Thus, we Christians are a people who live between the coming of Jesus in history, 2000 years ago, and the coming of Jesus in the future, at the end of our lives. And between those two poles, we live with Jesus in his holy word, in the church, in the sacraments, in our prayer life, and in our communities. Our whole spiritual, religious lives are permeated with Jesus. They are beautiful lives indeed. That is not to say that there is no suffering, but as Saint Paul says, the suffering is like labor pains: it leads to LIFE and joy. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 24, 2014

Feast of Saint Anthony Claret (24 October 2014)

In the marvelous letter of Saint Paul to the Romans, there is a high point of all of Sacred Scripture. It is the place where Saint Paul reflects upon the fact that by means of our baptism, we are adopted into God’s family; we become his children by adoption, and therefore heirs of his glory, just as any adopted child receives a legal right to the family possessions of the parents. And if we are heirs of God’s glory, then we are, as St. Paul says, “co-heirs with Christ.” And for that reason, we have a right to call God the Father “Abba.” Now, Saint Paul explains that “Abba” means “father.” That’s true enough, but it does not totally translate the term. “Abba” was not the normal word “father” in Hebrew, but rather was the childlike, intimate, tender way by which small children addressed their fathers. It corresponded to our “papa” or “daddy.”

In the gospel of Saint Mark, we find Jesus addressing his father in that way during his terrible agony in the garden the night before he died. We must understand how very significant it is for us to call God by a term of endearment, of tenderness, of affection. You remember the time when someone asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” In answer, Jesus picked a small child out of his listeners and stood the child in front of his audience. “Anyone who becomes a little child like this is greatest in the kingdom of my Father,” he said. He made it clear that he wants us to relate to God the way a 2- or 3-year old child relates to a kind, wise, and loving father. I remember when I was a child, the pastor of my parish was an elderly priest who had been born in Germany.  When he spoke of God in the pulpit at Mass, he always talked about “Almighty God.” Somehow, even at that young age, the term didn’t sit well with me. I knew that God is almighty, but I didn’t think of him in those terms. It isn’t easy to relate intimately, affectionately, with an ALMIGHTY being. How much easier it is to relate to “Papa” or “Daddy.” So, my dear friends, let us try to be childlike in our relationship with God. Trusting, loving, obedient, affectionate, and aware of our littleness in comparison with our heavenly father, who is also our maker.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 23, 2014

Feast of Saint John of Capistrano (23 October 2014)

I like the way Saint Paul speaks to the Romans when he says, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Think about that for a moment. “Wages” is another word for “salary.” When you work, you get a salary, agreed upon between employer and employee beforehand. So, when we sin and die spiritually, we are getting what we deserve. There is an element of justice there. But Saint Paul doesn’t use the term “wages” at all when it comes to our living as God asks of us. He doesn’t call that “wages,” but rather “the gift of God.” A gift is not part of justice. It is a result of gratuitousness, kindness, love, esteem. When the schoolboy mows the neighbor’s lawn for the prearranged price of $5, and the neighbor gives him his $5, that is justice. But if the neighbor ALSO gives him a slice of freshly baked apple pie with a big scoop of ice-cream on it, that is a gift. That did not enter into the original agreement.

We “work” for God in the sense that we obey his word, his commandments, his holy will. And do we get a just salary for this “work”? Listen to Paul’s words again: “the eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to imagine what God has prepared for those who love him.” The reward for our virtue is so great that we can’t even envision things like that. That is not strict justice; that is the divine abundance and generosity of a loving father who, because he is God, is totally unlimited in what he can give us. How fortunate we are to be working, not for wages, but for divine generosity and love! Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 22, 2014

Feast of Pope Saint John Paul II (22 October 2014)

In Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans we have the joy of reading his description the warfare that he perceives within his own personality. He describes it as the combat of the spirit against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit. This basic principle is fundamental to Christianity, since Our Divine Lord himself enunciated it and based much of his preaching upon it. You see, when God created our first parents, there was a beautiful harmony between the two elements of their human nature: the body and the soul; the flesh and the spirit. But they sinned, and destroyed that harmony. Concord turned to discord; peace turned to war; unity turned to disunity.  And ever since then, the human race has had to struggle with the conflict between the two parts of its nature: the spiritual and the material—the angel and the animal.

Pope [Saint] John Paul II, devoted many of his allocutions to this topic and they have been gathered into a book called “The Theology of the Body.” It is not easy reading, but for those who want to explore this matter more deeply, it is certainly a milestone in our understanding of the relationship of body and soul in our own personalities.  Life is a war of good against evil; spirit against flesh; the eternal against the temporal; the forces of God against the forces of this world and Satan which try to seduce us away from God. Many of the saints have spoken of this combat that we feel within our persons. Within the war there are major battles, and then there are minor skirmishes. We win some; we lose some.  We ask Our Lady, “pray for us sinners,” even though we certainly hope that basically, we are saints—in union with God by what we call sanctifying grace.

When I was a novice, there was a really funny fellow in our novitiate class. He could turn just about everything into a delightful joke, and he kept us laughing much of the time. One day, one of the novices made some comment that another objected to quite strenuously, and the second one made some really unkind reply. Our funny friend spoke up at that moment, and said to the maker of the unkind reply, “Oh, boy! You really goofed that time. Go back three mansions!” He was referring to the fact that the Spanish mystics, Saints Teresa and John of the Cross, often speak of our making progress from one mansion to another in the kingdom of God.  As we ascend the mountain of the Lord, the mansions become more beautiful and comfortable, the closer they come to the house of God Himself.  So when our jokester said to the one brother, “Go back three mansions,” making it sound like a children’s game, we all laughed and recognized that we all go forward, and backward, in our daily lives by either winning or losing the skirmishes in the war of soul against body, spirit against flesh. This is why we do penance. This is why we accept the cross in our lives, since penance, mortification, and the cross are means by which we strengthen our souls against the demands of the body and we keep in good shape in the ongoing struggle against self-indulgence, sensuality, and sin. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 21, 2014

Feast of Saint Celine (21 October 2014)

Our Lord uses all sorts of metaphors and similes to get across his ideas about the kingdom of God. In the gospel for tomorrow’s Mass, he compares himself to a burglar. He says to us: “If the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” The Son of Man is the expression that Jesus habitually uses to refer to himself.  Now, if Jesus is coming like a thief in the night, what does he want to steal from us? Our lives. He wants to end our lives in this world and bring us to be with him forever in heaven—if he finds us worthy of heaven.

Then he goes on to compare his coming to the return of a wealthy man to his home after an absence of some time—maybe a business trip or a vacation. He had left the butler (the steward) in charge of the other servants and of the entire household. If he finds everything running smoothly as it should, he will be pleased, and will reward the butler. But if he finds things not going well because the butler is not responsible, intelligent, and a man of good will, then there will be severe punishments meted out.

You and I are rarely wealthy people who manage a whole group of servants as is sometimes the case among the landed gentry of England or other countries. But we do have a little world over which we have authority, and for which we are responsible.  That world consists of our time, our talents, our job, our home, our family, our spiritual lives. The Lord expects us to govern those things well—according to his holy will.  To use them as he intends; to treat them in a way conducive to eternal salvation for them and for ourselves. You remember what it was like in grade school and high school when the teacher had to leave the classroom for a few minutes? If there were boys in the class, you could be sure that they would start cutting up and running around the room, yelling, and generally creating havoc. Then, when the door opened and the teacher reappeared, there was the mad scramble back to the seats, to silence, and to order. That is to be expected among teenage males; it is not appropriate for adults. Our Lord has promised that he will come back for us. What will he find? I hope that he will find you and me doing exactly what he asks of us, and looking forward to his return and to our being with him forever in heaven. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 20, 2014

Feast of Saint Paul of the Cross (20 October 2014)

Not a day goes by without my hearing from some friend and usually a former parishioner of mine at Saint Dominic Parish in New Orleans, in that section of town called Lakeview, which is now totally devastated and at least temporarily abandoned by its former occupants because of the recent hurricane.  Yesterday one of them said to me, “It’s so strange. Before the hurricane, one of my favorite pastimes was buying shoes. I must have fifteen pairs of shoes in my closet that I’ve never worn. And now, they have been soaked for three weeks in dirty water, while here I am, in someone else’s home, with only the shoes on my feet.”

Then, after hearing that, I read the gospel of today’s Mass in which Our Divine Lord tells the parable of the very successful farmer whose bumper crops presented him with the problem of not having enough room to store his produce. He says to himself, “I’ll build bigger barns and granaries, and then I will say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years: rest,eat, drink, be merry.’” But then God says to him, “You fool! this night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” And Jesus concludes, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” Those fifteen pairs of my friend’s shoes ought to be kept in a cabinet with glass doors in the parish church. What a marvelous illustration of the words of Jesus they are!

So, my dear friends, whether you and I are hurricane victims with nothing but the clothes with which we escaped our homes, or in normal circumstances, we need to ask of ourselves often: if I were to die today, have I “stored up for myself treasures in heaven,” as Jesus counsels all of us to do, so that when we appear before Our Lord in judgment, our merits which have preceded us will speak well on our behalf? Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 17, 2014

Feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (17 October 2014)

Tomorrow we have the joy of celebrating the feast of Saint Luke, one of the four evangelists who has so enriched the world by his beautiful gospel. Let us just think for a few minutes of the tremendous treasures for which we are indebted to this man who was the only Gentile among the New Testament writers, who was a physician, who was a disciple and secretary to Saint Paul, and who wrote the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. In less than two months, the Christian world will begin to blossom again as it does each year with crib scenes, depicting our dear Lord as a baby lying in a manger. It is to Saint Luke that we owe the knowledge that Our Blessed Mother laid her divine son in a manger because there was no room in the inn at Bethlehem. She and Saint Joseph probably regretted the fact that they could do no better for this divine child than to cradle him where animals ate, but in God’s providence, that manger has become one of the most charming, the most moving, the most inspiring indications of the humility, poverty, simplicity of the Incarnate God. Then, during his public life, Jesus gave to us a number of parables that form the heart of Christian theology and have entered world literature in a way that puts Virgil, Homer, Aristophanes, and Shakespeare to shame. These treasures of divine revelation include the parables of the good Samaritan, the lost sheep, the rich man and poor beggar, the publican and the pharisee, and possibly the most beautiful of them all, the prodigal son.

Where would we be—where would Christian spirituality be, without those incomparable gems of God’s word? Just to take one of these splendid examples of Saint Luke’s contribution to our holy religion, when the prodigal son comes home after squandering half the family fortune and reducing himself to poverty and shame, the older son is angry and unforgiving. He says to his father in sarcasm, “When YOUR SON returns . . . for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”  And the loving father replies, “We must celebrate and rejoice, because YOUR BROTHER was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  Nothing in all of Scripture tells us more about God and His Divine Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, than those simple but profound words. So we rejoice today in celebrating the man who was inspired by God to write for posterity those words of Jesus. In doing so, he has conferred an incomparable gift to the world. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

Posted by: fvbcdm | October 16, 2014

Feast of Saint Hedwig (16 October 2014)

It’s wonderful how coincidences occur; they are God’s little ways of encouraging us in his ways. In the gospel for today’s Mass, Our Divine Lord tells his followers: beware of the leaven of the Pharisee. And Saint Luke, who reports this to us, explains that by leaven, Jesus means hypocrisy. Why should leaven mean hypocrisy? And therefore why should the Jewish people rid their homes and their meals of all leaven and leavened breads during the celebration of the Passover? And, taking the idea one step further, why do we Catholics use only unleavened bread when celebrating Mass? The reason is this:  to the Jewish mentality beginning with the law of Moses, leaven—yeast or baking powder—was hypocritical because it caused bread dough to seem larger than it really was. When the baker mixes leaven with his dough and gives it time to rise, the whole batch of dough swells up and becomes much bigger than it was before the leaven was added. Why? Because the leaven causes carbon dioxide to be released in the dough, and the gas makes the heavy dough swell and become light and fluffy.

The difference between leavened bread and unleavened is the difference between a nice roll or muffin or croissant, and a plain soda cracker, or our communion wafers. If you were to invite your neighbors over for breakfast tomorrow morning, promising them communion wafers, they’d think you were crazy and probably wouldn’t come. And yet, Christians across the world get up early in the morning to attend Mass and receive the communion wafer during the Holy Sacrifice. That’s the difference between nature and grace. What we would spurn naturally, we eagerly receive under the impulse of God’s grace because we know it to be the Body of Christ.  The coincidence that I spoke of earlier is this: while I was thinking of this notion of leaven, I opened the Houston newspaper which I read each morning.  And there, on page A14, is an article which is VERY important to New Orleanians, those still there and those who have been exiled by hurricane Katrina. The article announces that the Café du Monde is about to reopen! That means that once again, the locals and the tourists alike will be able to sit at the outdoor café just across the street from Jackson Square and our Cathedral, in the heart of the French Quarter, and have their beloved beignets, a sort of fritter made of bread dough, fried in deep oil, and served piping hot, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar.  And of course, eaten with a steaming cup of good New Orleans café au lait—coffee and milk. It is very nice of the Lord to have given us beignets to begin with; to make them an integral part of life in New Orleans, my home town, and then to allow the reopening of this beignet shop along with the notice of it in the Houston newspaper which I read! When we want to jokingly make fun of someone’s ideas, we sometimes say, “Oh, you’re full of hot air!”  It is the hot air in the beignet that makes it so delicious; it is the lack of air in a cracker or a communion wafer that makes them much less desirable. The one is very pure but blah; the other is full of hot air, but delicious. When you eat really good bread, you’re eating a lot of air with your baked dough. And this, to the Jewish mind, was hypocritical. It’s all very well for bread to be full of hot air, but we are expected to be pure, genuine, without pretense or seeming to be bigger or better than we really are. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

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