Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – June 25, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 20:1-13
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 5:12-15
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 10:26-33

 

Jeremiah’s misery cannot be exaggerated as we hear him cry out to God for vengeance in the first reading. His agony comes from the experience of betrayal by those he considered to be his own people, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, brothers and sisters called like he was to be faithful to God. What has turned his own against him and brought Jeremiah to the brink of disaster and despair as he sinks in the mud of the cistern where he has been cast? His fidelity to the vocation of Prophet to which God called him.

Essentially, the great Prophets like Jeremiah and John the Baptist are not seers, predictors of the future, as contemporary usage understands the term prophet. The Prophet is anointed to tell the people what God wants them to hear. Their message is always the same. God loves you. Please let God be your god. Please be God’s people. Do not go dancing off after strange gods. Most often the Prophet becomes one who calls the people back to this relationship. Their catchword is repent. To repent means to return.

Sometimes the Prophet’s role is to let people see the implications of their infidelity. Jeremiah saw the effects their corrupt way of life was having on Jerusalem. He was not the first to see that Jerusalem’s strength corresponded to the degree of the people’s fidelity to God; to the degree they were faithful to the Law. He was not the first to see that as they drifted away and took up with other gods, no longer living as God’s people, they not only became corrupted, but also, weak. Jeremiah spoke out against debauchery. He condemned injustice for the poor. He railed against idolatry. That is what God wanted him to do. That is what God wanted the people to hear. Jeremiahs purpose was not to belittle them, but to call them back to justice and truth and to right relationship, reflective of the call they had received from God when God brought them out of slavery.

You will rejoice in the message, the truth that sets you free, if the message is one you want to hear. Nothing rankles more than a message that is unpalatable, a truth you do not want to recognize or hear. That is what Jeremiah found out. That is how he wound up in the cistern, in mud up to his knees. He is convinced he will die at the hands of those to whom he had prophesied. Just earlier he has cried out to God: You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.”

Notice now the sudden awakening. The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, the will not triumph…. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked! God will rescue the poor, Jeremiah among them.

As the prophetic message washes over you, do not hear it as a word for people long ago. This is Living Word. Hear and focus on all those people today who feel alone and abandoned, purposeless and oppressed, all those refugees yearning for peace and security. Pope Francis is a Prophet. He urges the church to minister to the poor. He walks in simplicity and reaches out to the little ones. He urges a poorer church to announce God’s love for the poor and God’s desire for them to live as God’s family.

Paul reminds disciples of what they must never forget. All who are disciples must remember that their call is gift, the result of God’s grace, the result of the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflowing for the many. All who are disciples must remember that their call is to love those who they serve, so that that love will convince those ministered to of God’s love. Perhaps Paul is also saying that no one should go out in Jesus’ name until s/he is convinced about being a sinner, redeemed, but a sinner nonetheless. Shouldn’t that keep us humble – and grateful?

Shouldn’t that dictate the attitude of the Church in the modern world? Anyone can paint the history of the Church in lurid and sensational strokes. Anyone can go to various periods of the Church’s history and decry abuses of authority. The Spanish Inquisition was not the only period for which St. John Paul II apologized during his papacy. Again, Pope Francis reminds us that the more the Church distanced herself from the call of service and the Gospel’s call to simplicity in that service, the more obvious become the abuses. But never forget that in every age of corruption stood great saints prophesying, announcing what God wanted the Church and all people to hear. Repent and believe the Good News. The Commandment is to Love.

Francis of Assisi prayed in the church of San Damiano. He heard a voice coming from the crucifix: Francis, rebuild my Church. At first he thought the command to rebuild referred to the wreck of a chapel in which he prayed. Then he came to realize that Christ challenged him to prophesy and call the whole Church to reform. His witness would be one of poverty and service. It would have been difficult to distinguish the Papal Court Francis entered from that of any other temporal court of splendor. The three-tiered crown the pope wore made sure of that. And so did his throne.

The Church in the modern world is the people of God, the Body of Christ. The mission of the Church is to heal, reconcile, and cry out for justice for the poor, and to announce that the kingdom of God is at hand. The Church must feel the need to listen to the message as well as to proclaim it. In other words, there must be evidence that whose who proclaim are also recipients of the graceful promise of healing, reconciliation, and peace. Heavy-handed authority has no place in that communion. The faith of the Church resides in the believers. That was always the role of the great Councils of the Church, to ascertain what the Church believed by checking on the faith of the people. Sometimes those beliefs challenge assumed official Church positions. The Official Church needs to listen and not be threatened.

Years ago, a picture of the then Archbishop of Seattle, Archbishop Hunthausen, appeared in a Seattle newspaper. He was seen to be doing janitorial work in the apartment of a poor and mentally challenged little one of God. That kind of attitude and service ought to be ordinary among the Church’s hierarchy and among the faithful. One of the pope’s titles is, the servant of the servants of God. Pope St. John XXIII exercised that attitude and was beloved for it. His successor, the current Bishop of Rome, continues the practice.

We are a people call to gather at the Table of the Eucharist, to give thanks in the renewal of the dying and rising of Jesus, and to be nourished by his Body and Blood. But we must never forget that everything does not stop there. What we hear and what we do must always translate into action. We must reconcile and be reconciled. We must serve and be served in a community of love that embraces all. (Remember, Jesus was condemned for practicing table fellowship with the off pouring of society, known sinners among them.) We must exercise a fundamental option for the poor even as we recognize our own poverty and utter dependence on the graciousness of our God and of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

One final note: Some of the most eloquent prophets in the Church’s history may not have used words at all. The contrast between their attitude and actions with those of the world said it all. May that clarion call be heard around the world today. We have nothing to fear. God loves us. God counts even the hairs on our heads. And after all, we are worth more than many sparrows – if our poverty attests to that.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – A – June 18,2017

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16a
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:51-58

 

Dear Reader,

Even the most shocking statements, repeated often enough, can become mundane to the hearer.  Consider Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, for example.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him/her on the last day.  Have you ever heard anyone gasp when that proclamation was proclaimed.  Seldom does someone stop his feet and storm from the Assembly.  No one ever put her hands over her ears and cried, “Enough!”

Why then did the first audience have all those reactions and add to them cries that Jesus was a madman?  John is quite clear that at the end of his discourse most who were present turned on their heels and departed, leaving only a few, stunned and shocked, who remained with Jesus.  He asked them, Will you also go away?

We don’t know the thoughts that raced through the disciples’ heads as they watched the scene unfold.  At the beginning of the preaching there were crowds pressing in to catch every word that came from Jesus’ mouth.  At the conclusion near violence erupted.  Some even may have picked up rocks to hurl at Jesus, so revolted were they by what he had said.  The few who remained with Jesus probably wanted to duck for cover lest they find themselves in harm’s way.  What degree of confidence do you imagine was in Peter’s voice when he responded, Where can we go?  We believe that you have the words of everlasting life.”  These were the ones, after all, who had given up everything to follow Jesus.

What is so shocking in Jesus’ remarks?  There is no wiggle room.  Remember the line from the song?  With me it’s all or nothin’/ it’s all or nothin’ at all.  Crudely put, that is exactly what Jesus has said.  Everything of importance depends entirely upon Jesus.  Life to day and for all eternity depends on gnawing at his flesh and drinking his blood.  That is the language he used.  Jesus wants his disciples to devour him.  I am the living bread come down from heaven.

Accommodation takes over after that for many of us.  As we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, (Corpus Christi) we immediately think we are celebrating the feast of the Eucharist.  Of course that is part of the feast.  But with that we objectify the meaning and mystery that Jesus puts before us.  We think of a host.  We think of a cup of wine.  In the course of the Eucharistic Pray, we look at the bread and proclaim the Body of Christ present.  We look at the cup and proclaim the Blood of Christ present.  And we adore.  All well and good; but there is much more.

To look and to adore keeps the reality at a distance.  We focus on the transcendence and do not have to deal with the imminence.  Nowhere in the Gospels and certainly nowhere in the Institution Narrative does Jesus say, this is my body, adore it.  Nor does he say that about the blood.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Do this in my memory.  Everything depends upon this.

Again, accommodation takes over.  It always has.  We look for more palatable interpretations for so much of what Jesus announced.  The centrality of poverty in the Christian walk – surely he didn’t mean that literally.  What, then, do you suppose he meant when he said, Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and come and follow me?  Then there is the commandment Jesus voices in John’s Last Supper account that has nothing about the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.  There Jesus says, As I have washed your feet, so must you wash one another’s feet.  The operative phrase is, you must wash.  That is quite a bit stronger than, I think it would be a good idea if you would do this.  No, basic discipleship is total dependence on Jesus, simplicity of life, and the pouring out of self in service.  (I am certain you have noticed the impact of the example Pope Francis gives as he lives all three components of The Way.  And there are some who deplore what he is doing.)

There is a term that you might hear frequently today in reference to people who are inactive in the practice of their Catholic faith.  They are called Cultural Catholics.  That means they were baptized into the Body of Christ, the Church, have never denied that they are Catholics, but the faith has no practical bearing on the decisions made or lifestyle lived.  A step farther on that path are those who call themselves, Recovering Catholics.  It is safe to say that that is not what Jesus had in mind in issuing the call and challenge to be his disciples.  Jesus expects us to live lives that make no sense were it not for our faith in him.  That only happens as a result of our eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and devouring his every word.

Today’s feast, then, is a call to action, formation, and transformation.  Have you ever asked yourself what difference it would make if Jesus were not in your life?  Would there be any observable difference besides not having to go to Mass on Sunday?

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is also the feast of the Church.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  That is what the Church teaches.  We, you and I, all one billion of us are that Body.  What impact does that have on our lives?  Certainly that is not something to boast about.  Nor should the fact become an icon on a tall pedestal to be gaped at in awe.  The truth is a call to action.  The Body of Christ in every age is broken and distributed in loving service.  It is all about love as the supreme call.  The commandments by which the Body lives are reduced to one all encompassing mandate: As I have loved you, so must you love one another.  Nothing demands more than Love.

I have great admiration for Dorothy Day.  (I strongly recommend Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own.  The book is intertwined biographies of four great Catholic writers of the last century; three of them converts to the Catholic Church.  Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, the born Catholic in the group, and Walker Percy.)  It saddens me that there are those in the Church who think that Dorothy Day is an embarrassment to the Church because of the sins she committed in her youth.  She had thought she was an atheist.  She was a member of the Communist party.  She had an abortion.  It was the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ that motivated Dorothy Day’s conversion.  From the time of her Baptism, she lived the rest of her life witnessing to what acceptance of that reality meant in practice.  The Catholic Worker movement and houses of refute for the poor are only two examples.  Her life of poverty and prayer are others.

Rejoice in the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Rejoice and be glad.  But please don’t stop there.  Embrace the implications.  You will never be the same.  You will never regret it.  It is not my word you have on this.  It is the Lord’s.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – A – June 11, 2017

A reading from the Book of Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
A reading from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 13:11-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 3:16-18

Forgive me if it sounds presumptuous.  After all, who am I to quibble?  Still, sometimes I find myself wishing that the compilers of the Lectionary readings had not edited down the texts, but rather had left them in tact.  Gems seem to be left out for the sake of brevity.  Today’s first reading is a case in point.

What a magnificent moment in which we are privileged to witness.  God descends in a cloud and stands with Moses on Mount Sinai.  A courtship dance ensues as God reveals himself to Moses, proclaiming his name, Lord (Yahweh), to Moses.  The scene is reminiscent of their first encounter at the Burning Bush.  That was when Moses asked the Presence for a name to be given should Pharaoh ask Moses who had sent him.  Tell Pharaoh I AM sent you.

In the Hebrew tradition, to know the name is to know the essence of the being.  Remember in the Garden, God brought all the animals before Adam to see what name Adam would give them.  That is how wise the Earthling was, to know the essence of all the creatures.  I AM, translated Yahweh, becomes a name so holy that the Hebrews will not pronounce it.  They will use Adonai instead.

Now, coming out of a cloud and dancing before Moses, God gives his own commentary on the meaning of Yahweh.  The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.  While merciful and gracious are similar qualities, note that merciful is related to the Hebrew word for womb.  God’s love for humans resembles a mother’s love for her child.  It is the continuation of that line that I wish the Lectionary editors had left in.  The Lord continues his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgives wickedness and crime and sin.  I have to admit that I don’t mind that the final phrase of the text is omitted – yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their father’s wickedness.  Somehow I think that is hyperbole rushing out of the emotion of the moment.  God’s dominant attitude toward creatures is forgiveness.  What remains after wickedness, crime and sin have been forgiven anyway?

We celebrate the Feast of the most Holy Trinity this weekend.  To some, it might seem a strange feast since every Sunday, and everything we do as believers centers in our shared life in the Trinity.  Be that as it may, the readings this Sunday give us an opportunity to focus on the Mystery and remember.

What ought we to hear?  First, we ought to hear that this faith of ours is a result of God’s reaching out and embracing us.  God pleads with us to let God be our God so that we can be God’s people.  This did not happen because of anything we did or did not do.  This is not something that we earn.  This is grace, pure and simple.  That is important for us to remember lest we get swelled headed because we believe.  Paul took care of that temptation once and for all when, in another text, he challenged Christians to remember that no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.  In other words, the Spirit empowers everything we do and everything we believe as followers of Jesus Christ.  If you believe that Jesus is Lord it is because the Spirit breathed that belief into you.

In our Baptism we are given a new life, having died to the old one, and we are given a new identity – a union with Jesus that results in our being the beloved of God, sharing in God’s life.  Never tire of thinking about that.  Ponder the mystery and wonder.  Remember what John said?  Beloved, we are God’s children now.  What we shall become remains to be seen.  All this now and Heaven still to come!  Or, has it already begun?

Our celebration of this feast reminds us of some particular implications of our belief.  All of them are relational.  Paul reminds the Corinthians and us that if we believe in God as Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, then it follows that God calls us to enter and live in that community of Love we call God.  Love binds the community of the faithful together.  Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace…Greet one another with a holy kiss.  In a nutshell Paul tells us what should be the evidence that we are the Church.  We are a people on a journey together.  We are united in the one God and united with one another.  When we gather for Eucharist, we stand in awe at the Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Bread and the Wine.  We ought not to forget another presence: the Assembly is the Body of Christ, here gathered to celebrate the Eucharist.  Again, Paul, in another passage, again to the Corinthians, reminds us that the body, though many in parts, is one body.   Division in the community we call Church is a scandal that denies that unity.  Shunning individuals, even sinners, in the community is a scandal.  Unless the proclamation that goes out from us gathered in worship is, All are welcome here, we are not living the reality.  This faith life is not something we hoard.  It is something we live to share.

Do you remember Eleanor of Aquitaine’s famous line in The Lion in Winter?  Prone on the floor following a violent argument with her husband, Eleanor looks at the audience and declares: Every family has its ups and downs.  Ups and downs not withstanding, the family remains.  If we believe that we are journeying together on The Way, then we must support and encourage each other along the way.  There is no judging worthiness.  No one can deny another’s worthiness to come to the Table.  The example lived in this love is the call to conversion should we need to mend our lives and ways.  It is the person who determines the rightness of approaching the Table.  Contrary to Thomas Wolfe’s title, You Can’t Go Home Again, return and reconciliation are always possibilities and causes for great rejoicing.

So again, in the end, it is about love.  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 is what Jesus proclaims this Sunday in the Gospel.  Everyone.  Notice.  We must not be stingy with God’s grace that washes over us in the same abundance, as does Christ’s blood in which we are redeemed.

If we recognize that and experience the profound sense of awe and gratitude that ought to result, then the Eucharist we celebrate as the source and summit of all we do as believers ought to empower us to live our Baptismal Priesthood in such a way that it translates into lives of loving service, loving each other as Christ has loved us.  That is what the Greeting of Peace, or the Kiss of Peace, as it was first called, is meant to express before we enter into the Communion Procession.

Is there anyone you have left out of or excluded from the circle for a while, anyone with whom you are content not to be speaking?  Is there anyone you deem unworthy of approaching the Table?  Live what you celebrate this weekend and reach out.  Who knows, perhaps there is someone who feels estranged from you who will feel the need to reach out and welcome you home again.

Sincerely,

Didymus