Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – April 22, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
A reading from the first letter of John 3:1-2
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 1:11-18

Dear Reader,

The only sound in the church was the burbling of the water in the baptismal font.  It was late afternoon and the sun, deep in the western sky, shimmered through the stained-glass windows and dappled the church in reds and blues.  My practice was to sit near the Font for vespers, my evening prayer to end the day.  Light played on the water’s surface as the tower bells tolled the Angelus.  These waters are your tomb and your mother.  One of the early Fathers of the Church coined that phrase regarding the Font that has fascinated me from the first time I heard it.

Some may think the phrase to be an oxymoron, a combination of contradictory terms that the mind struggles to wrap around and to reconcile.  Some, failing to do that would dismiss one part of the phrase or the other.  My choice is to ponder and plumb the depths for meaning.  Sometimes that can be a scary course that surfaces implications that are difficult and demanding, with implications with which I would rather not have to deal.  The tomb part, the dying, isn’t so bad.  The possibility of dying to sin and everything that would separate us from the love of God comforts a troubled spirit.    One can rest there.  It is the birthing part that troubles.  Entering the tomb to die is essentially passive, a letting go.  The community baptized me.  It was done to me.  Maybe being born is passive, too; but the implications are phenomenal, the ensuing responsibilities, tremendous.

In the early Church, when adults were baptized in the course of the Easter vigil, the elect came to the Font’s edge and shed their clothes, stripping themselves of everything that was of their former lives.  Naked, they entered the waters to be immersed in them.  Drowning is an apt image.  So is dying.  But then they rose from the depths and crossed over to the other side.  As they emerged, they were clothed in a white, alb-like garment.  You have put on Christ.  In him you have been baptized.  That is the birth that goes deeper than putting on as one would a shirt or a pair of trousers.  The new birth results in identification with Christ.  The new life lived is Christ’s own.  The love bond that results is tremendous and will never be broken.

John spells out the implications in bold relief.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  Christ is the Word made flesh.  Christ is the only Son of God, the Father’s beloved one.  The baptized are born into that relationship and assume the mantle of God’s beloved.  There may be passivity in accepting this new identity; we cannot be passive in living out what that identity means.

The baptized are called to do what Jesus does, called to act in, with, and through Christ and to do all in his name.  What power resides there!  That is what peter declares as he reminds the leaders of the people that the healing of the crippled man that now incriminates him was done by the power and in the name of the Risen One whom they condemned.  Peter says this, not to denounce the leaders, but to invite them to repent and embrace the Name.

Hear the words of the Gospel today.  Jesus speaks of his role as shepherd, the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep, just as the sheep know him.  The language speaks of intimacy of relationship, reflective of Jesus’ relationship with the Father.  I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.  Be vulnerable to those words.  Let them penetrate to the core of your being.  Hear the conclusion to the declaration: I will lay down my life for the sheep.

Not to belabor the issue, but we might be comforted to know we are sheep.  Not the brightest of God’s creatures, sheep cannot possibly have much of a burden or conscience or responsibility.  They simply follow.  Not so here.  Being identified with Christ means taking on the responsibility of shepherding and knowing the sheep.  At once we are both sheep and shepherds.

The language begins to limp.  So let us speak in clearer terms.  What is your experience of Church?  What is your experience of parish?  What role do you play?  The call to membership is not to embrace passivity.  The Church, the parish is a communal reality; all members have shared responsibility.  The faith resides in them.  Members must know each other and must reflect the depth of that knowing.  The members come together to celebrate the Sacraments.  It is the community that baptizes.  The members of the community are co-celebrants of Eucharist, and not mere passive spectators.  As the Assembly, they are called to full, active, and conscious participation.  Passive attendance will not cut it, if you will.  When you gather with your parish community, is love so strong that you know the others would lay down their lives for you, just as you would for them?

Sometimes the evening news doubles as a powerful catechist.  The image of people, most of them strangers to each other at this point, realize that there is a young man, the cycle rider, under the car.  No one hesitates.  They move in on the burning car and together lift it.  One of their number stoops down and pulls the man from beneath the car and saves his life.  Later, to a person, when their deed is praised, they refuse to be called heroes.  They just did what anyone would do in those circumstances.  Would that that were so!

There is more.  Jesus says: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  Jesus’ call is universal.  His desire is that there be one human family, and that all believe they are sisters and brothers in the human experience.  Our sense of responsibility must be universal, too.  No one is beyond the pale. Kenyans and Ugandans are our brothers and sisters.  So, too, are Israelis and Iraqis.  So are those of every family and tribe on the face of the earth.  That is not easy to deal with; but it is the truth and is our responsibility if we have put on Christ.  That is what it means to live in Christ and for Christ to live in us.

The Gospel concludes with Jesus’ being confident as he moves toward the crucifixion.  I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  No wonder the cross, that horrid instrument of torment, has become for us a symbol of hope and life.  Jesus suffered these things and so entered into glory.  So will we if we do the same.

Where will all this take us?  God only knows.  But if we believe that God loves us with the same love God has for Christ, what does it matter?  Hear again what John says in the second reading.  Listen and remember.  Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  That will happen even if the worst befalls us.  That is the promise.

So it is that often I paused by the Font and remembered.  Remembering gives the courage to go on.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus

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SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – B – April 08, 2018

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35
A reading from the first Letter of Saint John 5:1-6
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-31

Dear Reader,

I woke with a start and his name flashed through my mind, a name I hadn’t thought of for over thirty-five years.  I remembered the shock that trembled through me when I heard the news that he had been murdered by a shotgun blast as he peered from his front door on a snowy January night in 1969.  He was a black man who had lived in a mostly white neighborhood and an activist for racial equality.  The killers had thrown a snowball against his living room window.  A second one against their bedroom window alarmed his wife.  She peered through the window and saw the intruders hiding behind her husband’s car in the carport.  He had gone to the front door to investigate.  She cried out, but too late, to alert him to the danger.  She heard the blast that instantly killed him.

In those years assassinations were frequent.  Violence ran rampant in the country.  Riots and demonstrations on college campuses and in city streets demanded that race relations and war be reconsidered.  President John Kennedy’s slaying in Dallas in 1963 ushered in an era of change the way in the same year that Vatican Council II began to open windows and let the wind of renewal and change rush through the Church.  Then Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were gunned down.  Watts, Detroit, Selma, and other cities found new fame as places where citizens banded together and stood in community in the face of police batons, snarling dogs, and the rush of water from fire hoses.  Kent State and other campuses experienced sit-ins and student demonstrations led to violence and bloodshed.  Pictures of anguished students crying out in the camera’s eye haunted all who saw them.  So did the picture of the naked and napalm seared young girl running down a Vietnamese street shriek of the horrors of war.

Those years are distant now.  They were the years of my formation and the beginning of my priestly ministry.  It seemed that the Church for which I was prepared in the seminary years ceased to be with the Council’s closing and the issuing of new foundational documents called Constitutions that called the Church, the People of God, to a new springtime.  We transitioned through a long Lenten period to a new and bright and wonderful Easter.  From this vantage point those days following the Lord’s Resurrection seem the most apt analogy.

Think of the Gospel for this Sunday.  The violent death Jesus suffered filled his disciples with dread and terror that they would suffer a similar fate were their discipleship made known.  Locked in the Upper Room of the Last Supper, they suddenly became aware of the Risen One who wished them Peace.  Death had not triumphed.  Yes, the wounds in his hands, feet and side remained, but he is alive.  They had to learn the implications for them that came with belief in him.

Looking back on those years and remembering the violence in the streets and the upheaval in the Church, I believe the world experienced that same transition from dying to new life.  Pentecost that clarified the vision for the disciples was the rush of the Spirit in the winds of change in the Church.  Nothing would ever be the same for the disciples.  Nothing would ever be the same for the Church no matter how nostalgically some would come to look at pre-conciliar days.

Those times may have seemed safer with people kept in their proper places in an established hierarchy, and with roles carefully defined according to sex and race.  The evils of sexism and racism wore sanitized masks.  But the violence tore away those masks and Justice and Equality became the new catchwords that came to define the new era.  In the early days of the church a profound sense of community emerged.  The call to renew that awareness emerged from the council.  Some of the disciples may have longed for the old days when they could sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him.  But now he lived in them and they had the responsibility to reveal him to others through doing what he had done.  They were transformed.  And so were we who matured in the 1960s and experienced the new Rising of the Church.

That brings me back to the man whose name came to me in the night those many years after his murder.  We had appeared on a panel together to address the question of racial equality.  The Church in the Modern World called for us to be involved in societal change and to be engaged in the cry for justice.  Speaking on that panel before an all-white audience seemed like the right thing to do.  It was a packed house.  My co-panelist was the only black person in the room.  Several of us spoke in turn of our desire to see this new era of justice emerge and to see the crime of racism cease.  I can no longer remember my speech; but I am sure it was safe and sanitized.  I was new to speaking out, new to the Church’s role as an implement of change in society.  I did not want to rankle the assembled.  Polite applause followed my remarks.  Then he spoke last.  I remember sitting in stunned attention as he lashed out at the establishment and at the Church for tolerating the abuses against which he now spoke.  It seemed like a call to anarchy for which I had not been warned.

He finished his speech and called for an intermission.  To this day I do not know what possessed me.  Without forethought, I reached over and pulled the microphone back to myself and asked everyone to remain seated for a moment.  Then I turned to the speaker and acknowledged his pain, admitted that I could not understand it because I had not walked in his shoes.  But I also said that anarchy was not the answer.  We, he, those like him, and the Church, all of us must work together.  Together we could be a leaven for the change he longed for.  Apart and at odds, hostility and chaos would be the only results.  Together a new awareness of our unity as part of God’s family could emerge.  And I pledged to work with him and never be complacent with the status quo.  There was loud applause.

I remember our conversation during the break.  He apologized for what I took to be a broadsiding.  I pledged my support of his cause.  We promised each other that we would remain in contact and parted as friends that night.

Three weeks later, Edwin Pratt was shot to death in a snowy night in the neighborhood we shared.  It had been years since I had thought about him when his name came to me in the night.

Now I remember and in these times wonder how far have we come.

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus

 

HAPPY EASTER 2018

Dear Reader,

It is springtime in the desert.  The night air is fragrant with the scent of orange and cactus blossoms.  I sat on my patio and watched the Easter moon cast its glow that caused the surroundings to shimmer.  A mourning dove perched on the wall near me and sang to its partner in the sky.  Strange how all those elements come together to remind us of Mystery.

After all, we are a people of faith.  We are challenged to live in Mystery and say boldly to the world that there is more than what the senses can behold.  There is something more important than what is tangible, more important than youth, or beauty, or wealth, or power.  There has not been a time in recent history when that message needed a louder proclamation.  We dared to trust that darkness would not triumph, nor would war, or hatred, or prejudice, nor any of the powers that threaten us today, bringing us to our knees, some in near despair.  Have you noticed that just when we thought we had heard the worst, something worse happened?  There is something that can only be experienced when all else has failed and the powers of darkness have done their worst.  Remember that Jesus, in the last moments of his dying was enveloped in darkness.  He felt abandoned as he cried out to Abba, Father, and asked, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The Lenten journey is that kind of walk, that time of being alone with Jesus, when we are invited to enter into the darkness and experience the worst that can befall us.  Every year Lent begins with the Temptations in the Desert.  Look at them closely.  Recognize that they sum up all the temptations we can suffer in life, as what dazzles and distracts might make us wonder if God ought to have primacy of place in our lives.  Again, speaking to these times, gold, position, power just might seem more important than they wee before.  The powers of darkness just might make us wonder if God will triumph.  Will we hear God’s plea, “Let me be your God.  You will be my people.”

Easter, in the northern hemisphere at least, comes in springtime.  Winter has done its worst.  We have survived.  There have been ample signs of the power of darkness. In addition to the terrible storms that plagued the country, horror stories of war, famine, disease, exploitation of the weak and the poor, global terrors have all been there in the nightly news.

Perhaps some have felt estrangement from a loved one.  Some may have kept the lonely vigil by a deathbed and watched and wondered how life would ever be endurable without the loved one.  Others might know the bitterest blow of betrayal by someone loved and trusted that is at the heart of Christ Passion.  Some may have been brought to their knees by all those events that tempt us to think in terms of tragedy – the ultimate defeat.

The passage in all of Scripture that is dearest to my heart is the Emmaus story.  The two travelers’ faith has been shattered by their witnessing Jesus’ destruction on the Cross.  “We had thought he was the one who would set Israel free.”  The mysterious Stranger, walking with them, invited them to revisit what they had experienced, and this time to view it through the prism of faith: “Did not the Son of Man have to suffer these things and so enter into his glory?”  After they pressed the Stranger to stay with them and he, in Eucharistic language, took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, he then vanished from their sight.  They remembered and recognized him in the breaking of the Bread.  They knew it was the Lord.  No wonder their hearts were burning as they walked with him On The Way and he invited them to share in the new perspective.

Remember the Emmaus story.  Notice that the Lord did not revise recent history for the two.  He did not take away the horror of the passion and death.  It had happened.  But the Good Friday they had witnessed was not about defeat, but about victory.  Easter dares us to trust the story and believe in the Mystery.  Perhaps Easter can only hold sway in our lives when we have been brought to our lowest point, when strength has been depleted, when everything else has failed us, and we are still alive.  The cross is still the cross and it is horrible.  But in the light of Easter it is also a sign of hope and promised victory.  “Behold, I make all things new!

May every blessing of Easter be yours.  May your faith be strengthened.  May your hope be renewed.  May your love, nourished by the broken Bread and the Cup poured out, and shared with your believing community, be the reason you dare to be that for others until He comes again.  May your hearts burn within you as you continue to journey with the Stranger on The Way.

A favorite quote from a favorite saint, Thomas More, seems apt by way of conclusion: Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we meet merrily in heaven!

Sincerely yours in the Risen Christ,

Didymus