Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – October 21, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 53:10-11
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 4:14-16
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:35-45

 

Dear Friend in Christ,

We must be careful how we interpret the opening words of this Sunday’s first reading from the Prophet Isaiah.  The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.  Taken literally, one could hear that God is sadistic and delights in people’s suffering.  It is true that there have been periods in the Church’s history that would seem to indicate that this was so.  How else explain the wearing of hair shirts or prickly wire tightly wound around the waist?  Why else would there be merit seen in extreme fasting?  Do we believe in a God who looks on people inflicting pain on themselves and delights?

Isaiah’s Suffering Servant songs are taken as prophetic texts that are fulfilled in Jesus.  We will hear the present reading proclaimed on Good Friday.  It is true that some commentators see Jesus’ passion and death on the cross in that light.  But what we ought to hear in this proclamation is God’s delight in the innocent One who takes on himself the sufferings of others merited by their sinfulness.  He is the one faithful to God when the others stray and give themselves to Baal and take up pagan ways.  He is the prophet challenging the Israelites to return to the Lord God and be faithful again.  In so doing, the prophet is rejected and scourged.  

Think of the Prophet Jeremiah who found himself hurled into the cistern, where he sank into the mud.  Why?  Because he warned the king and those in power that if they did not repent, Jerusalem would fall.  It is the Prophet’s fidelity that pleases God.  And God promises reward.  The Suffering Servant shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, (God’s) servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.  The Suffering Servant becomes the source of blessings for those many others among whom he moves and announces what God wants the people to hear.  That is the charism of the prophet, to give voice to the divine message that calls people to reform their lives.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those prophets.  Call to mind the marches he led in Alabama and his preaching from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.  God did not delight when King was shot.  God was pleased by the changes in attitude that followed from King’s death, changes that he saw from the “mountain top” the night before he died.

Blessed Oscar Romero was another of those prophets, one who shepherded in the midst of the poor ones and challenged the powerful to restore dignity to them.  Changes in El Salvador continue to emerge even as in death the voice of the Archbishop continues to be heard in the land through recordings of his preaching.  Romero was shot during a celebration of Eucharist.  The power of the sign resonates to this day.  The faithful believe that God lifted him up, fulfilling the promise of Eucharist.

The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews invites us to consider Jesus, the Son of God, the great high priest who has passed through the heavens.  Priests were part of the tradition of the Hebrews, just as they are part of our own.  The priest stands as a mediator between God and the people.  In need of mediation and forgiveness themselves because they are sinners, invoking God’s mercy on himself and on the people with whom he gathers at the table in shared ministry.

The model for priestly ministry is our Great High Priest, the one who does not make us cower in dread, but one who sympathizes with our weaknesses, because he has been tested in every way we have.  Tempted might be a better translation than tested.  Temptation speaks more clearly of inner struggle.  It is important for us to hear in the three synoptic Gospels that Jesus’ public ministry begins with the struggle in the desert.  The implication is clear.  Jesus knew temptations to vary from the Father’s will all through his time of preaching, healing, and forgiving.  The difference is clear also.  Where as we know what it means to succumb to temptation, our Great High Priest did not sin.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wants us to know that Christ is sympathetic to our needs and to us, and is always a source of strengthening grace and forgiveness.  Through Christ comes mercy.

An embarrassing moment for James and John, the sons of Zebedee, opens the gospel reading for today.  It becomes clear that the brothers do not understand the kind of Messiah Jesus is.  They have witnessed the miracles, the feeding of the five thousand among those miracles, as well as the healing of the blind, the deaf, the mute, the lepers and the crippled.  Pondering these events and seeing the crowds gathering around Jesus, they have concluded that Jesus is a mighty Messiah about to establish an earthly kingdom.  They want to be in prominent and powerful positions when the kingdom comes.  Remember, they had left everything to follow Jesus.  This was their time to claim the reward they thought should be coming to them.  Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and one at your left.

Jesus does not reprimand them for their boldness and misunderstanding – dare we say, pride?  Rather, this becomes a teaching moment.  You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?  What did the brothers know about either?  All they knew was that they could see themselves playing prominent roles in everything they had seen Jesus do so far.  Without a moment’s hesitation, they said: We can.  They do not realize that when Jesus affirms their response that he is telling them that his cross will be a part of their lives.  Their being apostles will mean that they will be martyrs for the cause.  But as for the reward coming?  The Father will determine that.

The other ten are angry with James and John for what they have asked of Jesus.  Part of their anger may well have stemmed from their desire for exactly what the brothers had wanted, prominent positions in the coming kingdom.  So it is time for the Twelve to learn what the Kingdom will be like.  They know how Gentiles exert power by making others subservient.  That is not what it will be like in Jesus’ realm.  There, those who want, in today’s parlance, to be top dogs, will be the servants of everyone else, the exact opposite of what the apostles desired.  By the way, that is why the pope is called the Servant of the Servants of God.  In Jesus’ words, the pope should see himself as the slave of all, because that is how Jesus sees himself.  Pope Francis exemplifies this to the consternation of some who would rather align with James and John’s expectations.  Some do not want to hear that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.  

See how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Suffering Servant in the first reading?  We who are disciples of this age must hear the lesson and take it to heart.  If we embrace discipleship, we rejoice in being feet-washers and will not be surprised if the cross becomes increasingly evident in our lives.  We might have to give our lives in union with Jesus as part of the ransom for the many.

When we come together for Eucharist, it is community that ought to be immediately apparent.  These people gather in Christ to imitate Christ in loving service, to be one in Christ and one with each other.  We gather for the proclamation of the Word, the prophetic voice forming us, calling us to ongoing conversion and the experience of the forgiveness that is ours in Christ.  The Priesthood of the Baptized gathers with the Ordained Priesthood to co-celebrate and give thanks to God in the renewal of Christ’s dying and rising.  Various ministries, Greeters, Ushers, Lectors, Altar Servers, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, remind us that each of us is called to be the servant or slave of all.  We lord it over no one.  We are not passive spectators, but full, active, and conscious participants in the Liturgy.  Together we are Church.

I sat with a friend and listened to him as he poured out his soul in anguish over the news that he had just received that he had Alzheimer’s disease.  He had known success and had acquired considerable wealth.  He had been also a faithful parishioner and had given himself in service of others in the St. Vincent de Paul ‘Society.  I will never forget his words, even as tears welled in his eyes.  This (Alzheimer’s disease) was the last thing that I thought I would have to face.  Cancer would have been preferable.  I wonder how long I will be aware that my faculties are slipping away.  How long will I recognize my wife and daughters?  When will I stop recognizing you?  But I want you to know this now.  If this is the way I am supposed to pour myself out in imitation of Christ, I accept it.  I just hope that when I am completely dependent on others, they will be patient with me.  I pray that I will be able to remember that heaven is coming.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus  

 

   

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THE TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – October 14, 2018

A reading from the Book of Wisdom 7:7-11
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 4:12-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:17-30

Dear Friend in Christ,

Warning: At your own peril enter into this week’s readings and ponder the concepts they put before you.  Take them to heart and you will never see things the same way, nor make decisions as you did before.  Most demanding of all, what you used to take as signs of blessing and God’s favor may not appear that way ever again.

The author of the Book of Wisdom is taken to be Solomon, even though the Book of Wisdom was written centuries after his death.  Solomon has always been seen as the epitome of what it means to be wise.  In this Sunday’s reading, Solomon tells us that he prayed and prudence and wisdom were given to him.  In other words, neither is a natural talent; both are gifts from God.  When Solomon receives the gifts, he sees things the way that God does.  Nothing is as Solomon saw it before prudence and wisdom became reality’s filters for him.

Go down the list of items in the reading and you will find just about everything that society values today.  Wealth and its trappings.  Youth and beauty.  Power.  Even health.  None of them, seen through Wisdom’s inspiration, is as important as Wisdom herself.  The reading ends with these words: Yet all good things together came to me in (Wisdom’s) company, and countless riches at her hands.  Follow that line of thinking and you can see how it was that the rich were thought to be those blessed by God and would, therefore, be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We will see what Jesus has to say about this.  You will appreciate the shock registered by those who heard what he said.  Perhaps you will be shocked, too, even angered.  That is all right.  That is where prayer will come in.  Pray to see things the way Jesus does, if you dare.

We sometimes fail to remember that the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.  Reminded of that, we will not be surprised that from time to time, while sitting under the Word, that is, the Scriptures, we were unsettled as we wondered, How can this be?  What we might forget is that conversion is a life-long process that began when we first came to believe and concludes only when our loves have run their course.  Every step along the way, if we allow it, begins with grace and is supported by grace, as we are called into deeper union with Christ.  Put another way, it is God’s love that draws us.

We come to the gospel reading for this Sunday.  A man, perhaps a stand-in for you or me, runs up to Jesus and pays him homage.  Can you not identify with his question, at least when you are praying?  Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?  What do I have to do to get to heaven?  Jesus tells the man to keep the commandments.  Do what God requires.  Notice the man’s answer:  Teacher, all of (the commandments) I have observed from my youth.  That is a jaw-dropping avowal.  All of the commandments.  From my youth.  Not many people can make that claim.  It is clear that his claim is not idle boasting.  How do we know?  We know because of Jesus’s reaction.  Jesus looked at the man with love.  Jesus knows the heart and knows that the man has from his youth been single-minded in his desire to do God’s will.

The man asked Jesus how to get to heaven.  Jesus answered.  Now comes the offer of vocation, the invitation to move to a deeper realm and follow the new way.  You are lacking in one thing.  Go sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.  Jesus challenges the man to have Solomon’s experience and dares him to see things differently.  Can the man stop seeing his wealth as the confirmation of God’s love for him?  Can he wrest himself from these things in which he finds his security and that may well blind him to the needs of others, or cause him to see the poor in ill light?  Remember in Jesus’ time, and clearly in our own present time, poverty was and is seen to be a punishment for sin, either this man’s or his parents’.  It is that perception that Jesus wants to change.  It is that perception that Pope Francis challenges us to change.  The poor have a prominent place in Jesus’ concerns.  They must occupy that place in the concerns of those who follow Jesus.  Could the rich man become a minister to the poor?

Clearly the man had come to Jesus awed by what he had seen Jesus do and heard him say.  Or, perhaps the witness of others drew him.  Something made him conclude that Jesus had the words of everlasting life.  The crowds and the disciples following Jesus attested to that.  But when the man heard Jesus say that he had to go and sell what he had and give to the poor and then come and follow Jesus, his face fell.  He went away sad.

Do not take from this that the man would no longer inherit eternal life.  Jesus assured him of that already.  That does not change.  What is lost now is the opportunity to rid himself of everything that is in the way of making Jesus the center of his life, of experiencing the emptiness that only Jesus and the love of God that Jesus brings can fill.  Jesus had wanted the man to become Jesus’ other self.  He wanted him to do what Jesus does, and to speak as he speaks, to enter the reign of God and so help others, especially the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised to know God’s love.

Now we come to another of Jesus’ declarations that turns perceived reality upside down.  Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.  We can discuss what the term needle means.  We will conclude that Jesus was speaking of the narrow gated entry into Jerusalem that was so low and so narrow that a camel could only go through it were its entire load removed before hand.  What we need to hear is that it is no simple endeavor to enter God ‘s kingdom.  It is not a matter of doing what comes naturally, as an old song had it.  If that were the case, from where would come the need for grace?  Where would be the difficulty?

As nakedly as Jesus has put the demands for entry into god’s kingdom elicits consternation from the disciples.  Then who can be saved?  In other words, they ask who can meet Jesus’ demands.  The answer is simple and straightforward.  No one can do this on her or his own.  But all can with God’s grace empowering them.

This brings us back to a sidebar, if you will, and the question of vocation.  The word vocation, as you know, means calling.  To consider vocation is to ask what it is that God is calling you to do or to be.  Most obviously, your state in life is your vocation.  If you are married, your marriage is your vocation and you serve the community in that vocation.  If you have chosen to be single, as a single person you serve the community in fidelity to that vocation.  If you are a priest, a deacon, or a vowed religious, through that vocation you serve the body that is the Church.  What we might miss is that in each of the vocations, in order to follow Jesus, it is self that must be emptied if one is to serve in imitation of Christ.  In each of those vocations, recognizing the totality that is Jesus’ call, each one can be overwhelmed by the demands and do what the rich man did.  Go away sad because it seems too much is being asked.  Who can do this?

This may be presumptuous of me, but I would challenge you at this point to take a moment to stop and pray, perhaps for the prudence and wisdom that Solomon prayed for.  That will result in your being able to view your situation, your gifts and blessings, as God does.  In that moment of prayer, ask Jesus what he would have you do.  What is Jesus calling you to do and to be in the community we call church?  The first thing you will notice is that if there is a vocation, it will be attractive.  You will be able to imagine yourself doing it.  Is Jesus inviting you to be a Lector?  An Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion?  A Greeter or an Usher?  Is Jesus inviting you to be a minister to the homebound?  Is there the possibility that you are being asked to go on mission to a developing country?  Could you minister to someone dying with HIV/AIDS, or to those in advanced years?  Could you minister to someone in dementia?  That is not an exhaustive list.  Those are just some suggestions that might prompt you to wonder, and wondering, to dare to say Yes if God will support that decision with grace.  Remember, there are primary vocations and avocations.  Marriage is a primary vocation.  Being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion is an avocation or secondary vocation.  The balance between the two needs to be kept.

One more question to ask while you are praying about vocation.  What will you have to give up in order to respond to the Lord’s invitation?  It is not without significance that we approach the Table to receive Eucharist empty handed.  What gets in the way of your taking up ministry?  It is interesting to wonder how the story would have worked out, who the man would have become, had he gone and done as the Lord invited and then followed Jesus.  You can only wonder the same thing.  When you serve, what will be the impact on your faith community, the broader community, the world?  How will others experience Christ through you?

A final note that you ought not miss.  When it comes to the question of reward for having given up everything to follow Jesus, do not miss that Jesus promises the restoration of everything given up and persecutions besides.  There may well be a share in the Cross that you cannot anticipate.  You may be rejected or even denounced by those who do not accept your ministry, or misunderstand it and find it threatening.  When you think about it that should not be a surprise.  You are imitation Jesus.  It is possible you will wind up the way he did.  But then comes resurrection and God’s eternal embrace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus  

THE TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – October 7, 2018

A reading from the Book of Genesis 2:18-24
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 2:9-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 10:2-16

Dear Friends in Christ,

We have much to consider in the readings as we prepare for the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday.  The homilist will be challenged to break open the word for us so that we are nourished and led to a deeper understanding of the nature of human relationship as God intended, its permanence in marriage, and, I believe, its permanence in the Church.  We speak of the Church as the Bride of Christ.  There are implications for us in terms of our relationship with Christ and with each other.  There is a lot to think about here and ample reason for us to pray for the grace of enlightenment and the courage to live by what the Spirit reveals.

We begin with the reading from the Book of Genesis.  There are some important details that we should not miss.  This is the beginning of the story of creation and man’s place in it.  This is not a scientific treatise.  Rather, it is a theological interpretation of the world as God called it into being.  There is a hierarchy of beings that inhabit it – all God’s creatures.

Hear God’s first words in the text: It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him.  This would seem to indicate, at least from God’s point of view, that it is essential to the human experience to live in relationship.  There is ample evidence regarding the effects of solitary confinement to substantiate that.  Isolation breaks the human spirit.

God begins to form all the wild animals and the birds of the air.  All are put before the man.  Perhaps this is to see if one of the creatures will put an end to the man’s being alone.  That does not prove to be the case as one by one the creatures prove to be inadequate.  Notice that the man names each of the species.  What’s in a name?  Shakespeare asked the question.  More than the Bard thought, at least in this text.  As the man names them one by one it becomes clear that the man is intelligent and knows the essence of each creature.  So he can assign the name.  Second, naming the creature gives the man rule over it.  The man, under God, is at the apex of the creatures with God-given dominance.  But that is not enough for the man.  He is still alone.  None of the creatures is a suitable partner.

God puts the man into a deep sleep and removes a rib that God then builds up into a woman.  Something different is happening here.  For the first time the being is not formed out of earth, but from the rib, or life substance of the man.  The woman shares the essence of the man.  As he had the other creatures, the man names her woman for out of her man this one was taken.  The man’s exaltation is clear.  He is now a complete human being as is she in their union, as the two become one flesh.  The conjugal union is an expression of God’s will.  In their being one flesh, they are the image of God.  It will be eons before the equality of the sexes will be accepted.  In fact, there are some who do not accept that yet.  

Now we turn to the gospel.  Once again the Pharisees confront Jesus.  These confrontations are always attempts to ensnare Jesus, to catch him saying something that seems to deny the Law.  Or perhaps he will carry on a practice construed to be a major infraction of the Law.  Remember, Jesus cured on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees will be able to denounce him.  Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?  As he often does, Jesus turns the tables on them as he asks if they know what Moses commanded them in the Law.  Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.  The husband could do this.  Not the wife.  The grounds could be trivial.  The wife had no rights.  She could be discarded at will.

Now Jesus becomes the confronter.  Moses may have allowed this practice because of the hardness of your hearts.  The Pharisees may accept such actions as being in keeping with the Law.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus says, this is not in accord with God’s will.  To substantiate this, Jesus quotes the concluding lines from our Genesis reading.  His proclamation is absolute and must have been shocking to the Pharisees who were comfortable with the status quo.  If a husband writes a bill of divorce, dismissing his wife, and marries another, that union is adulterous.  Do not miss the subtle elevation of the woman’s dignity as Jesus cites the other side of the coin.  If she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.  The wife ought to have the same dignity and power as the husband, the same standing before the Law.

What can be inferred?  There is no question that Jesus condemned divorce.  Put positively, Jesus avowed the indissolubility of marriage.  Marriage is the living out of the great declaration of the two being one flesh.  What God has joined together, no human being must separate.  Lived ideally, marriage is a safe and secure relationship between husband and wife that lasts until the death of one or the other of them.

The union is sacramental.  That lived reality reveals the communion of persons that is God.  Like all the sacraments, Marriage has significance for the whole Church.  That is why Marriage is celebrated in the church where the Assembly gathers to celebrate Eucharist.  The man and the woman perform the sacrament that is witnessed by the priest and the Assembly.  In marrying each other, the couple pledges to love each other and the community in which they live, just as Christ does in his union with the Church.  Remember, the Church is the Bride of Christ.  Lives of service in imitation of Christ’s are implied.  Just as Christ cannot be separated from the Church, neither can the husband and wife be separated from each other.  That is the ideal.

There is evidence that it was not that long into the Christian era before exceptions to the law began to emerge.  The first grounds admitted for divorce was adultery.  A little later, someone not baptized could leave a marriage with another non-baptized, and so be baptized into Christ and marry another Christian.  Paul allowed for that.  Such action to this day is called the Pauline Privilege.  We will not go any further with this.  Our purpose is to recognize the ideal that Christ puts before us and to recognize that on occasion the ideal does not work out.  There is the reality of divorce.  A marriage can die.  There is in the Church the reality of annulment.  It is sad when either happens.

Not everyone in the Church marries for whatever the reason.  Celibacy is imposed on those who would be priests or religious.  Some choose the single state.  Still, the adage remains: It is not good for the man or woman to be alone.  Humans ought not live in isolation.  Those who are baptized are baptized into union with Christ and with the Church.  That union is celebrated and proclaimed each time we gather to celebrate Eucharist.  Remember celebrating Eucharist is not a private devotion as is praying the rosary or making the Stations of the Cross.  In each Eucharistic celebration, the whole Church is present.  We share a meal and call it Holy Communion.  It might be easy to spring to the conclusion that we are talking about the resulting union between the one receiving Communion and Christ.  But that would bee only half the story.  Holy Communion results in a union with Christ, to be sure, but also with each other and the whole Church.  That is why we call the action Holy Common Union.  Remember the hymn that often accompanies the Communion Procession?  One bread, one Body, one Lord of all/ One cup of blessing which we bless/ and we though many throughout the earth/ We are one Body in this one Lord.

The hymn is a profound summation of the reality that all have a right to live by virtue of their Baptism.  The faith community ought to strive to make that right a reality for all – not just for the elite, not just for those of one race or gender, not just for the acceptable, the hale and the hearty.  All are welcome at this table.  All can come with plenty or in want and find acceptance and, those in need, support.  The Assembly catechizes.  The Assembly baptizes and calls to full stature in the Church.  The Assembly witnesses marriages.  The Assembly mourns those who die.  The Assembly proclaims in word and deed that no one ought to feel alone or abandoned.  All are part of the one Body that is Christ.

This places huge demands on the Assembly.  Tithing is the acceptance of that responsibility.  It is amazing the results when the majority of the parishioners commit themselves to tithing.  All of a sudden there is plenty to meet the needs of the many and to reach out and embrace all who have been brought low.  And no one is alone.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus